YouTube is putting new age restrictions on gun videos

Last year, a nonprofit flagged gun-related videos recommended to children’s accounts.

Noam Galai via Getty Images

YouTube quietly snuck in a policy change that will age-restrict some gun-related videos and bar others altogether. Content featuring homemade and automatic firearms will be banned for viewers under 18, while tutorials for removing safety devices will be prohibited regardless of age. The new policy will take effect on June 18.

“Starting June 18, 2024, certain content showing how to remove safety devices will be prohibited,” a disclaimer on YouTube’s firearms policy page now reads. “Content showing the use of homemade firearms, automatic firearms, and certain firearm accessories will be age restricted.”

In a statement to Engadget, YouTube spokesperson Javier Hernandez wrote, “These updates to our firearms policy are part of our continued efforts to maintain policies that reflect the current state of content on YouTube. For example, 3D printing has become more readily available in recent years so we’re expanding our restrictions on content involving homemade firearms. We regularly review our guidelines and consult with outside experts to make sure we are drawing the line at the right place.”

YouTube added that the prohibitions will apply to the real use of firearms and won’t pertain to video games, film clips or other artistic content. The platform may also make exceptions for content that’s in the public interest, like military or police footage, news or warzone videos.

The change comes a year after the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit watchdog group, called out YouTube for recommending gun-related content to several “child” accounts the organization set up to see how easily the platform’s algorithms nudged underage users towards gun videos. The researchers set up four accounts, two posing as nine-year-old boys and another pair pretending to be 14-year-old boys. The accounts watched playlists of videos about video game franchises like Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Lego Star Wars and Roblox, and the team monitored the accounts to see what recommendations popped up.

Lo and behold, YouTube allegedly recommended content about weapons and shootings. “These videos included scenes depicting school shootings and other mass shooting events; graphic demonstrations of how much damage guns can inflict on a human body; and how-to guides for converting a handgun to a fully automatic weapon,” TTP wrote at the time.

Other recommended videos featured a young girl firing a gun and tutorials for converting handguns into fully automatic weapons. Some of the content was monetized with ads.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, recently famous for convicting a 77-year-old who had trouble staying awake in court, chimed in soon after TTP’s report last year. The DA asked to meet with YouTube CEO Neal Mohan to discuss why the platform allowed video tutorials for “ghost guns,” firearms assembled using 3D-printed parts or kit components.

The Tech Transparency Project applauded the policy change but warned the real test would be in how stringently YouTube enforces it. “YouTube’s policy changes to age-restrict gun content are a step in the right direction, given that firearms are the number one cause of death for children and teens in America, but it’s not clear why it took the company so long to address the issue,” TTP Director Katie Paul wrote in a press release. “As always with YouTube, the real proof of change is whether the company enforces the policies it has on the books. Until YouTube takes real action to prevent videos about guns and gun violence from reaching minors, its policies remain empty words.”

Update, June 6, 2023, 3:19 PM ET: This story has been updated to add a statement and additional info from YouTube.