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Seeking Greater Diversity in YouTube Videos for Kids

Some of the most popular YouTube videos for kids are lacking in BIPOC characters

Topics: Social Media

Television shows and screen media that expose kids to diverse experiences, perspectives, and characters shape both a child's learning and their views on what is possible for themselves and others. Unfortunately, people who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color) are historically underrepresented in TV shows and video games, preventing many kids from seeing themselves reflected in culture and on screen. This also contributes to substantial missed opportunities for dialogue around race, ethnicity, and diverse cultural perspectives.

Today, much of kids' video viewing is taking place online. YouTube garners over 5 billion total views every day and is one of the most popular apps used by young kids and families. But to date, we have almost no data on what racial representation looks like in these popular videos.

To address this gap, Common Sense, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Michigan, watched 100 of the most viewed English-language YouTube videos in the world for kids, and examined the racial/ethnic diversity in them. We found that they did not feature representative racial and ethnic diversity of people or characters in leading roles, and lacked any dialogue around race and/or ethnicity, which provides an important opportunity to explicitly teach kids about the nuances inherent in different identities.

Chart showing the percentages of races/ethnicities in YouTube videos as compared to the US population.
Representation of different races and ethnicities in the most popular YouTube videos for kids is out of proportion to how these diverse groups are represented in the U.S. population.

Limited diversity and representation
In our review, 49% of videos showed no people of color, and only 26% of videos showed a person of color in a major role. Furthermore, the quality of content around diversity was limited:

  • None of the videos contained any explicit mention of race, and none of the videos contained any teaching about race.
  • Twenty-four percent of videos showed some kids of varying races or ethnicities playing together in a positive way, but these interactions tended to be quite brief or superficial.
  • Of videos with BIPOC characters, 61% depicted them in a positive way, and 39% showed a BIPOC individual depicted in a neutral manner.
  • While none of the videos we viewed contained predominantly negative depictions of BIPOC individuals, 2% of all videos included a racial stereotype. One instance included cultural appropriation of traditional Native American clothing, and another was an instance of racial stereotyping via a reference to kung fu fighters in China.

White children dancing in a music video with no children of color present.

This music video created on the channel Kids Diana Show does not appear to include any BIPOC children.

Why diverse racial and ethnic representation matters
Young kids are in a critical period of building internal models of themselves and others through their interactions with the world and digital media. When media lacks authentic and positive representation of BIPOC individuals or discussion of race, we miss opportunities for all kids to develop a positive sense of self in which they: feel a sense of belonging, value, and acceptance by society; can envision limitless potential in what they can achieve; and learn about and understand the experiences of kids who may not look like them. The diversity of YouTube videos for kids should reflect the diversity of those who view them.

The teams at Common Sense and the University of Michigan will continue to explore the diversity in the YouTube content kids are watching, as well as work to better understand the impact of diverse representations, or lack thereof, on the kids these videos are meant to reach.

Michael Robb, Jenny Radesky, Alexandria Schaller, Samantha Yeo, and Wilson Gipson contributed to this research and blog. Our limitations include the races/ethnicities of the coders on the study, which may bias outcomes. Future work by Common Sense and the University of Michigan on racial representations in YouTube videos will include coders from more varied backgrounds to ensure more diverse voices are represented in this work.

Methodology: We used Social Blade to identify the top 10 most subscribed YouTube channels in early February 2021. The list included: Cocomelon, Kids Diana Show, Vlad and Niki, ChuChu TV Nursery Rhymes, Pinkfong!, LooLoo Kids, Little Baby Bum, Toys and Colors, Ryan's World, and Billion Surprise Toys. Then, we compiled and watched the top 10 most viewed videos from each of these channels to examine elements of diversity. When there were difficulties in identifying the race/ethnicity of an individual, we used contextual clues and sometimes included searches online to identify their race/ethnicity. We discussed discrepancies and challenges in identifying race/ethnicity between coders and resolved this through discussion.

Citation information: Munzer, T., Robb, M., Radesky, J., Schaller, A., Yeo, S., & Gipson, W. (2021). Seeking greater diversity in YouTube videos for kids. Common Sense and University of Michigan. Retrieved from…

Tiffany Munzer
Tiffany is a pediatrician at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.