Who Tube? THEY Tube!

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It’s part entertainment, part online community and part creative marketing medium for musicians, comedians, animators, filmmakers, dancers, performers and anyone else seeking to share themselves with millions of people worldwide – so that means kids, too.


whotube.gif“Mom! Check out my favorite video!” My 15-year-old daughter and I sat at the computer and laughed hysterically together at a wacky karaoke video. I asked about her other favorites and, with a few clicks, we watched an animated clip of a giraffe in quicksand, then a music video by a French band that performs covered in glitter. All of this was on YouTube (youtube.com), one of the Web’s fastest growing and most popular sites among teens.

As a video sharing Web site – where anyone can watch, comment, rate and share video clips that run the gamut, YouTube has it all. Animal antics, angst-ridden poetry and diary readings, confessions and rants, Candid Camera-style clips and just about anything else you can imagine. With the tag line, “Broadcast Yourself,” YouTube allows anyone to upload and share video clips captured with camcorders, Webcams, digital cameras and cell phones.

It’s part entertainment, part online community and part creative marketing medium for musicians, comedians, animators, filmmakers, dancers, performers and anyone else seeking to share themselves with millions of people worldwide – so that means kids, too.

YouTube’s Impact

YouTube launched in 2005 and earned Time Magazine’s “Best Invention of the Year” in 2006. Wildly popular, Google bought the company in 2006, and it’s inspired many clones, including 1Dawg, GoFish and LiveDigital. Major companies like Geico and Kentucky Fried Chicken scour YouTube for clips to feature in their TV commercials. YouTube’s awards for popular videos in categories such as “Best Comedy,” “Most Inspirational” and “Best Series” open new doors for their creators.

YouTube also has significant political, social and cultural impact. Candidates for the 2008 presidential election are reaching out to YouTube audiences with “meet the candidate” and virtual town hall videos. Footage of a senatorial candidate making racist remarks that was posted on YouTube was credited with his electoral defeat. After the Virginia Tech shootings, YouTube became a home for video tributes to the victims. Police leverage YouTube videos to locate missing persons, track down criminals and prevent tragedies, including a high school shooting plot.

The site is home to literally thousands of inspirational, educational and entertaining videos, including music and art lessons, tutoring sessions, motivational speeches and anti-drug, anti-smoking and anti-bullying messages.

Pay Attention, Parents

Amid the good stuff on YouTube, there’s also highly objectionable material, including videos that show violence, sex, drug use, weapons, obscenities, suicide attempts, dangerous behavior and other disturbing content. Despite a “Terms of Use” policy that prohibits posting content that is “unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate,” there’s plenty of it out there, despite the site’s Code of Conduct stating that objectionable videos will be removed.

The YouTube site claims it is “NOT for people under the age of 13.” Access to certain videos is restricted as “inappropriate for some users” (as flagged by other YouTube users) and requires verification that the viewer is 18 or older. However, the sign up page that requires date of birth has no safeguards to prevent a user from entering a bogus birthdate.

Piracy is another issue. Google is being sued for copyright infringement for hosting clips of movies, TV shows, music videos and other copyrighted materials. YouTube has a policy prohibiting users from uploading copyrighted content, and it limits the length of uploaded videos to 10 minutes in an attempt to thwart copyright infringement. However, users have been able to get around these barriers by simply uploading recorded TV shows and movies in 10-minute segments.

Know What’s Out There

Short of a YouTube ban in your house, what can you do? First, talk with your kids about their use of YouTube or other video-sharing sites. Find out what they’re watching. Ask them to show you some of their favorite clips, and ask if they’ve uploaded any videos. Encourage your teen to talk with you about anything they find objectionable on the site.

Use the site’s Safety Tips, Code of Conduct, Copyright Notices and Terms of Use (links at the bottom of every page) to jumpstart a discussion of your own guidelines, values and expectations about your teen’s YouTube activity.

Stress the importance of never revealing personal identity details in their screen name, comments, reviews or videos that they post to these sites.

Sign up for your own YouTube account. Check out “Top Rated,” “Most Discussed” and “Top Favorites” videos and talk with your teen about them. Who knows, through YouTube, you may even discover something you and your teen have in common – even if it is wacky karaoke videos.

Melanie Snyder is a mom and freelance writer.

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