‘YouTube Kids’—it’s so convenient and seemingly harmless for parents to select a YouTube playlist of their kid’s favorite show (Peppa Pig, anyone?), and sit their child down for some screen time on an iPad.
What some parents don’t know, is that seemingly safe content on YouTube Kids is actually being used by pedophiles and other sick individuals to insert graphic and disturbing images ranging from pornography to suicide instructions.
When YouTube launched its special kid’s app in 2015 it was a welcomed addition for parents everywhere. The new site/app is also managed by YouTube, and like YouTube, contains music, content made by the users. It features TV shows like Winnie the Pooh and educational videos and is designed to be colorful and inviting to children with silly sounds, easy picture-based navigation and funny visuals.
There are parent-friendly features like time-restrictions, search-restrictions and trusted-channel only settings.
However, the inappropriate material that is so easy to find on YouTube is proving just as easy to find on YouTube Kids. While YouTube does restrict emotionally upsetting and violent stunts and pranks from the platform, they are having difficulty catching all the content before it gets in front of unsuspecting parents and ultimately, children. YouTube Kids has been having problems since its inception—YouTube claims to separate adult material from kid-friendly content and send it directly to YouTube Kids.
But according to users, since it first began, videos began popping up on YouTube Kids that included content like drug use and pedophilia jokes, cartoons with graphic sexual language, characters emulating dangerous behaviors and explicit adult conversations about pornography, child suicide and family violence.
How is this being done?
A user will upload a seemingly innocent playlist of Winne the Pooh episodes, for example. In an episode, the user inserts a short clip of inappropriate material and then cuts back to the episode. The short, inappropriate clip is easy for parents to miss.
It was discovered within the past year by an FL pediatrician and mother, Dr. Free Hess, that there are numerous videos on YouTube Kids showing abuse to female characters, suicides and school shootings. The videos have since been deleted by YouTube.
YouTube is full of educational and entertaining content that children can enjoy. It is up to parents to recognize and approach YouTube with caution.
Other parents have reported suicide instruction videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids, such as a 9-second clip embedded into multiple cartoons showing a man teaching kids how to slice their wrists, saying, “Remember kids: sideways for attention, long ways for results. End it!” After a week of efforts from upset parents, the videos was deleted.
Some content features familiar characters that resemble legitimate characters closely enough to trick kids into watching. For example, parents reported a video that appears to be another episode of Peppa Pig. But soon after pressing play, the plot turns dark. A dentist with a huge syringe appears to pull Peppa’s teeth out as distressed crying and disturbing sounds play in the background.
Therapists have reported that they are seeing an increase in children caught playing out sexual scenes they viewed on YouTube. While parents arrive concerned that potential sexual abuse by an adult abuser is triggering the behavior, the children reveal to the therapists that they saw the behavior on YouTube.
Three years into the new platform’s release, YouTube released the following statement:
“Content that misleads or endangers children is unacceptable to us. We have clear policies against these videos and we enforce them aggressively. We use a combination of machine learning, algorithms and community flagging to determine content in the YouTube Kids app. The YouTube team is made up of parents who care deeply about this, and are committed to making the app better every day.”
However, In February of 2019, a pedophile ring on YouTube was reported. YouTuber Matt released a video that exposed an underground community of adults took to comment section to encourage young children with YouTube channels to upload videos of themselves in compromising situations and positions, often in the form of yoga challenges, trampoline play, gymnastics or food consumption. Members of the pedophile ring then timestamp compromising moments of the children in the video in the comment section, allowing other members to jump to the compromising images, one after another. This community manipulated the YouTube algorithm in such a way that led to only similar videos to appear in the “suggested video” bar. Actual child pornography links were also found in the comments.
So what can we do?
YouTube is full of educational and entertaining content that children can enjoy. It is up to parents to recognize and approach YouTube with caution. To start:
- Only allow children to view YouTube videos in a public space when you are completely tuned into the content with them. Not while you are in another room or immersed in a task.
- Do not allow children to upload videos of themselves. Any content of your child on YouTube should be posted by you, with comments closely monitored.
- Do not let your child click away from the video that you have selected once it has ended by selecting a “suggested video.”
- Preview and save videos before allowing your child to watch them
By practicing precaution and constant diligence, YouTube can be a safe option for your family. However, for some parents, the return to old fashioned videos and DVDs have become an increasingly attractive option. Perhaps you’re beginning to feel the same?