The impact of YouTube on society is undeniable, but is it actually good for society?
Availability and popularity of content aside, there are many great things about YouTube. But like all that’s good and great, there are some aspects - in a perfect world - you’d wish were tightened up a bit.
Positive and negative effects of YouTube
I should be more clear. This isn’t a blog about the pros and cons of YouTube, which of its features are good and which are bad, or even the best educational YouTube channels for kids. This is more about the effects, or outcomes of the video sharing behemoth.
And, while I was going to simply lay out all of the positive effects and then follow with a list of the negative, I found you can take every positive effect and counter it with a negative.
Especially when it comes to kids accessing the site, there are many concerned about the negative effects of YouTube on youth. Meanwhile, it’s an essential part of classrooms - both virtual and in-person- around the world, and more and more are finding it’s a legitimate way for kids to make money from home.
So, each point will be presented by looking at both sides of the coin. The way you interpret each depends on the lens you’re looking through...and I’ll leave such interpretation to you.
YouTube makes us smarter.
Like I said, there is a video for everything. Need to fix your toilet? You can learn how to do so in a matter of minutes. Digital marketing? Yeah! How to floss? Yes. How to floss your teeth? Gross, but probably.
I could literally go on and on.
For kids, this can mean help with homework, learning how to play an instrument, and how-to’s on everything from DIY projects to making Roblox parkour obby tutorials.
The bottom line is: if you have a curiosity, you can satisfy it immediately with YouTube. I mean, you may have gone your whole life not knowing how to replace your toilet’s fill valve, or learning to do so would have been a little more difficult had you not been able to easily pull up a video on your phone of someone showing you how to do it.
But we can also get misinformed with YouTube, and not even know it.
Now, just because a video exists doesn’t make it truth, right? It also doesn’t make the person in the video doing the teaching an expert. And it certainly doesn’t ensure you’ll fully grasp what is being conveyed.
This is a sticking point where many stop and ask themselves … “is YouTube bad for kids?” It’s a fair question and a valid concern. So much information is out there, and it’s not all high-quality or appropriate. The key lies in parental guidance and education; learning to navigate the internet safely is a critical skill in this day and age.
I was semi-joking earlier with the toilet example, but misinformation is something to keep in mind with YouTube. Unlike a TV show or movie that goes through an entire professional approval and production process to make it to the screen, a YouTube video can basically be put up by anyone over the age of 13 without any sort of vetting.
That said, policing and gatekeeping every single video that was going to be uploaded (beyond ensuring it’s not offensive or harmful in nature) would take away from a big part of what makes YouTube such a force. It’s up to the user to practice good judgement when consuming content.
Watching YouTube saves you money.
If you’re a believer that YouTube is a great teacher, and you’ve actually learned a thing or two from it, you’ve probably saved some money in doing so as well—or could have saved money had you consulted a video or two.
Real life example from the last couple of months:
My car windshield developed a pretty healthy crack that originated from a rock chip. Convinced that a footlong crack couldn’t be repaired and would require the entire windshield to be replaced, I checked YouTube first, just in case.
Turns out it could in fact be repaired!
I ended up spending $130 for the repair where the lowest windshield replacement quote I received was $600.
Sure, I could have arrived at the same conclusion with a Google search, but I wouldn’t have been convinced the crack I was researching was as bad as mine was, etc.
But watching YouTube costs you money.
For this one, I could easily go back down the toilet path, and that attempting to fix your toilet by watching a YouTube video could leave you underwater in more ways than one...but there is another angle here.
YouTube is an advertising platform dressed in a video sharing service’s clothing, just as your favorite show is being produced as a means to deliver ads to you. So, even if you don’t stick around to watch the ad clip you can skip in 3, 2, 1, the main video you’re watching could contain methods like product placement, or an advertising link that pops up during the video.
Now, does the presence of advertising make YouTube “bad?” Of course not. It needs to survive just like any other business. Some people have more issues with advertisements than others, but I believe it’s a little unfair to expect a business to operate without attempting to generate revenue.
YouTube leads to less boredom.
With YouTube on your mobile device, you can watch pretty much anytime and anywhere such devices are allowed. Waiting in the DMV? On an airplane? These experiences may have been guaranteed boredom in the past, but YouTube allows for easy entertainment on the go.
(On the other hand, if YouTube didn’t exist, would people not have the means to find entertainment in these instances? I don’t think much would change, do you? Thus, is this really a positive effect of YouTube, or can it be argued that it's more of a positive effect of having a mobile device?)
But people are spending more time glued to screens.
Those of us who believe that too much "screen time" is in fact a negative might partly blame apps like YouTube.
The point here is that yes, people are probably spending more time with their screens these days, and thus less time enjoying everything else this world has to offer.
(On the other hand, if YouTube didn’t exist, would people not be glued to their screens? I don’t think much would change, do you? Thus, is this really a negative effect of YouTube, or can it can be argued that it's more of a negative effect of having a mobile device?)
YouTube has led to the creation of many jobs and income.
YouTube began as a platform where you could upload spontaneous videos you captured by being in the right place at the right time. Now, people are dedicating their lives to creating content specifically for uploading. All around the world, kids have created multi-million dollar YouTube presences.
Thus, becoming a YouTube personality is a full-time job for many, and a part-time gig allowing for additional streams of income for others.
Beyond that, these YouTube stars require specific equipment to be invented and sold to them in order to produce videos to the best of their ability.
Bottom line: This “creative economy” has opened a world of opportunity for many to earn an income, both in front of and behind the camera.
But YouTube is also a productivity killer.
How do you know I don’t have YouTube on a continuous play right now as I type up this blog? You don’t know (but I don’t, I promise).
My point here is, while YouTube is creating jobs, it might also be taking away from the efficiency of many others in the office or at home that are working other, non-YouTube related occupations.
Again, though, it seems that many of these “negatives” would still prominently exist without YouTube. Netflix and other streaming services, mobile games, apps, and more can all be said to contribute to a loss of productivity.
YouTube is inspiring
From TED Talks to Q & A with politicians, celebrities, and activists, the world’s 2nd most popular social media platform has countless hours of inspirational content.
Adults can connect with like minded people and get ideas for starting grassroots movements. Kids can get inspired by their favorite influencers to learn how to create a YouTube channel of their very own, or simply try their hand at video editing.
There are plenty of figures on the site who regularly use YouTube for good, even if it’s just to brighten someone’s day with a silly cat video. It’s a more or less unprecedented means of getting your voice out there, and the courage and skills necessary to do that can have a positive impact on kids grown-ups alike.
Not all content creators set a great example
It would be a wonderful thing if all content on YouTube, and the internet at large for that matter, was created exclusively by trustworthy, respectable people with good intentions, but that simply isn’t the case.
Like misinformation, there isn’t a perfect means of vetting the organizations and individuals on YouTube, no matter how many followers they have. Popularity is not necessarily an indicator of quality, and that’s something that can mislead people. And while YouTube has guidelines about disclosing sponsored content, the lines can definitely be blurred by less reputable sources.
Great, so everything is a wash?
Well, kind of! First, let's recap:
Positive effects of YouTube:
- Educates and teaches
- Saves money
- Provides entertainment
- Creates jobs
- Inspires learning and positive change
Negative effects of YouTube:
- Increases expenses
- Increases screen time
- Kills productivity
- Not all content is advocates for good
As you can see, for every potential positive, there could be a related negative, and vice versa.
I didn’t intend for that to be the point of this blog post, but the more you look at it, it’s hard to take a concrete stance either way.
And that’s the beauty of opinions...we can each have one, and the person next to us could completely disagree. It’s an argument that will never end.
So, what can we do? As parents, if you think there are negative effects of YouTube, address them.
We can utilize parental controls to ensure only the content we want kids to see is being viewed. We can utilize apps to limit their screen time, and more.
We can also utilize our own eyes to be watchful of what is being consumed, and use our voices to have conversations when things need to be roped in. We must remain vigilant.
But just like video games and other technologies that parents might interpret as time wasters, these platforms offer more than “sit back and kick it” outlets, and can actually inspire creativity and curiosity. How is a video game made? How can I learn to film, edit, and produce my own videos?
When it comes to children and technology, the answer isn’t to keep them from it—it’s to keep them on the right side of it, instilling rules and balance, and encouraging them to evolve from simply consumers to creators.
To help get your kids started as creators, check out our YouTube summer camp options, or jump into a YouTube online course—or any of our 50+ cutting-edge tech courses including coding summer camps, and classes in robotics, or game development.