Videos on YouTube that feature children who appear to be under the age of 13 are among the most popular on the platform despite the company’s stated policy that its site is not intended for children under that age, a new study has revealed.

That is according to Pew Research Center researchers, who analysed 43,770 of the most popular channels on YouTube, or those with at least 250,000 subscribers, in the first week of January 2019.

These channels posted nearly 250,000 videos over the seven days, equating to 48,486 hours of content that received more than 14.2 billion views.

About 17% of these videos were in the English language and the Pew researchers discovered that, even though only a small share of them were explicitly intended for children, those that were tended to be longer and receive more views.

“More broadly, videos featuring a child or children who appeared to be under the age of 13 – regardless of whether the video in question was aimed exclusively at children or not – received nearly three times as many views on average as other types of videos,” said Pew analyst Patrick van Kessel and his colleagues.

In addition, the very small proportion of videos directly aimed at young audiences that also featured a child under the age of 13 were more popular than any other type of content, at least in terms of views.

Importantly, the Pew study analysed YouTube’s main site and not the YouTube Kids platform that comes with enhanced parental controls and curated video playlists.

YouTube makes clear in its terms of service that users should be at least 13-years-old, but the Pew study raises questions about whether enough is being done to enforce the policy.

However, a spokeswoman for the company reiterated the policy in comments to Bloomberg. “We can’t speak to Pew’s methodology or results. But generally on YouTube, the most popular video categories tend to be areas like comedy, music, sports and ‘how to’,” she said. “And we have always been clear YouTube has never been for people under 13.”

Elsewhere, the Pew study found that content relating to video games or gaming accounted for 18% of the English-language videos posted by the “popular channels” over the first week of this year.

International current events or politics was another popular subject, accounting for 16% of all the English-language videos, including 4% specifically about current affairs in the US. Sport (9%) and music or dance (also 9%) were also popular.

Sourced from Pew Research Center, Bloomberg, YouTube; additional content by WARC staff