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Platform Parental Controls: Coupling the Shortages of Netflix’s Algorithmic Affordances with an Abundance of Parental Guilt

Platform Parental Controls: Coupling the Shortages of Netflix’s Algorithmic Affordances with an Abundance of Parental Guilt

Published onMay 02, 2019
Platform Parental Controls: Coupling the Shortages of Netflix’s Algorithmic Affordances with an Abundance of Parental Guilt

Platform Parental Controls: Coupling the Shortages of Netflix’s Algorithmic Affordances with an Abundance of Parental Guilt

Maureen Mauk

University of Wisconsin-Madison, PhD Student


Traditionally, media regulations are often framed as ‘for the children’ with the expressed intent to ‘protect societies’ most vulnerable’ yet failing to consider the needs of the parents playing the role of familial gatekeeper, left to contend with exigent public scripts on kids’ media consumption. The digital entertainment space has allowed for a surge in high quality children’s content, yet media researchers’ reactive swerve away from the alarmist talk on kids and television has tempered us from valuable analysis surrounding parenting and the media as well as the business and cultural implications of the burgeoning digital content arena. Given this industry boom coupled with the psychological space (Jordan, 2016) that content mediation requires of parents, my research examines the cultural implications of parental controls beyond regulatory execution to consider their paratextual contributions (Gray, 2010) and affordances. This case study, utilizing a combination of discursive interface analysis (Stanfill, 2009) and discourse analysis, interrogates Netflix’s algorithmic affordances (Gillespie, 2018) against their claims of easing parent/subscriber burdens with the recent roll out of ‘informed viewing’ tools.

Content platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, though not required to do so by U.S. law, still offer various forms of parental mediation through PIN code technology and maturity rating labels on its programming. The paratextual meanings created by maturity ratings allow parents to manage information overload using these “visceral shortcuts.” (Andrejevic, 2013, p. 17) My research analyzes the interface with regard to what is being offered and what is not, interrogating its benefits against the temporal and psychological investments made by parents to mediate content despite having platformized ‘help.’

Acknowledging the work parents do to navigate content at home as a radical site of struggle, (Wilson & Yochim, 2017) I compound my analysis of the norms of use with the public scripts that fuel and foment the tensions of contemporary parenting. Considering the classed, neoliberalist presumptions by platforms of a parents’ role within their walled garden, increased television content viewing by children (Chen & Adler, JAMA Pediatrics, 2019) and recent inquiry by the FCC (Docket 19-41) to evaluate the accuracy of the v-chip ratings and efficacy of the system, I point to the failure of Netflix’s algorithmic technology in easing the clutter, mental and emotional work that parents must contend with when it comes to mediating their kids’ content in the digital space.

I conclude by offering potential policy changes, building upon Gillespie’s work (2018) on content moderation beyond government standards noting that current digital media culture and policies ask already anxious and overwhelmed parents to ‘transcend’ (Lim, 2016, p. 21) beyond the mystique of the algorithm, to police content themselves in order to reconcile the disparities between the gluttony of unchecked entertainment content, faulty algorithmic recommendation systems aimed at our youngest consumers- children, and a governmental lack of regulatory understanding and oversight. In questioning the promise of the algorithm and emphasizing the problematic paratexual content standards and infrastructure of parental controls, parents and regulators have the ability to push companies like Netflix to offer its subscribers far greater ability to customize the platter that their kids’ media is served upon, creating new allowances in time, mental space and parental sanity.


maturity ratings, standards & practices, Netflix, parental controls, interface analysis, platform affordances, algorithm, culture, children’s media, digital television, media policy, parenting, psychological space

Author Note

Maureen Mauk is a PhD student in the Communication department at University of Wisconsin- Madison focusing on Media & Cultural Studies. She carries a decade of experience serving in Los Angeles as a television executive in broadcast and children’s Standards & Practices working for companies including FOX, 20th Century Fox Studios, and Mattel. She is a member of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers), and is a voting member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Mauk recently received the 1st Place Award by SCMS (Society of Cinema and Media Studies) Award for research article entitled: “Politics is Everybody’s Business: Resurrecting Faye Emerson, America’s Forgotten First Lady of Television.” The article is slated for publication in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies issue 59.4 (2020). She also has a forthcoming chapter in a book entitled Children’s rights in a digital age: Design, research and practice, edited by Dr. Donell Holloway and Francesca Stocco, ECU, Dr. Karen Murcia and Prof Michele Willson, Curtin University, and Dr. Catherine Archer, Murdoch University.

Her research interests include the study of media policy, parental controls, parental affect and guilt surrounding children’s media content, the use of social media for social and environmental betterment- particularly by young moms as well as feminist media historiography, with specific archival work focusing on early female late-night television talk show personalities.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Maureen Mauk, University of Wisconsin- Madison, Department of Communication Arts, 821 University Ave, Madison WI 53706. Contact: [email protected] 818-455-1980

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