Video nas­ties lurk­ing on You Tube kids app

Call for greater con­trols as it emerges that sick f ilm­mak­ers edit chil­dren’s shows in search of clicks and ad cash

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Jake Hur­furt and Deb­bie McCann news@mailon­sun­day.ie

VIDEO-SHAR­ING site YouTube has been ac­cused of com­plic­ity in the abuse of chil­dren by tar­get­ing them with dis­turb­ing and in­de­cent videos through YouTube chil­dren’s feeds.

Fea­tur­ing pop­u­lar chil­dren’s char­ac­ters such as Peppa Pig, the al­ter­na­tive ver­sions made by third par­ties of­ten con­tain vi­o­lent scenes, with one ‘hor­ror par­ody’ ver­sion show­ing the mother in the show be­ing de­cap­i­tated.

This week, blog­ger James Bri­dle wrote a piece high­light­ing how YouTube’s soft­ware had led to a

‘Very young chil­dren watch­ing on phones’

pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­de­cent videos tar­get­ing chil­dren on the site.

Although YouTube says it has tried to clamp down on the videos by block­ing ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue, crit­ics have called for fur­ther ac­tion in a bid to per­suade the video gi­ant to act to pro­tect chil­dren.

A new pol­icy will place age re­stric­tions on dis­turb­ing or in­ap­pro­pri­ate videos, but only if flagged by view­ers, so it is likely some chil­dren will see fright­en­ing con­tent be­fore it is age-blocked.

As YouTube’s search and video rec­om­men­da­tions work by us­ing key­words and tags, it is not dif­fi­cult to use these to make con­tent pop up in a playlist.

How­ever, ob­vi­ously vi­o­lent con­tent is rel­a­tively easy for the Google-owned ser­vice to pick up on and block.

Jim Hard­ing, founder of child pro­tec­tion ser­vice Bul­ly4U, said: ‘There’s no age limit. Very young chil­dren are watch­ing. The ad­vice would be that un­less par­ents have viewed the con­tent, don’t let chil­dren of that age view it.’

In his blog, Mr Bri­dle goes into more de­tail about videos which, while not as hor­ri­fy­ing as the de­cap­i­ta­tion of a favourite char­ac­ter, are still dis­turb­ing. Videos de­pict­ing char­ac­ters be­ing put in more adult con­texts or sim­ply be­hav­ing in a way that will un­set­tle chil­dren are com­mon.

As they can’t be blocked eas­ily through au­to­mated mon­i­tor­ing, they of­ten end up in chil­dren’s feeds and un­til re­cently, as there was no age-in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent, they were dif­fi­cult to block.

The changes fo­cus on the YouTube Kids app, which au­to­mat­i­cally re­moves all age-blocked videos.

Any­thing flagged un­der the new pol­icy aimed at pro­tect­ing chil­dren from po­ten­tially dis­turb­ing but not in­ap­pro­pri­ate videos will also be re­moved from this app.

If a child is us­ing their par­ent’s YouTube ac­count on the full app, how­ever, the videos will still be avail­able.

Mr Bri­dle was crit­i­cal of YouTube on his blog, say­ing it was prof­it­ing from the vast num­bers of videos and view­ers – and from the num­ber of chil­dren who are kept quiet with a screen.

Un­of­fi­cial chan­nels are a ma­jor risk he says, as peo­ple post il­le­gally copied ver­sions of le­git­i­mate shows reg­u­larly. Hid­den among this can be more sin­is­ter con­tent – he points to a more vi­o­lent ver­sion of Peppa Pig go­ing to the den­tist hid­den among unau­tho­rised copies of a real episode of the hit show.

By us­ing the right key­words to pop up to an un­sus­pect­ing child, it’s easy to place a video pre­tend­ing to be an in­no­cent episode that ac­tu­ally con­tains dis­turb­ing con­tent in a child’s feed.

Mr Bri­dle said: ‘To ex­pose chil­dren to this con­tent is abuse.’

He wrote: ‘What we’re talk­ing about is very young chil­dren be­ing tar­geted with con­tent which will trau­ma­tise them, via net­works which are ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to ex­actly this form of abuse.

‘It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of vi­o­lence in­her­ent in the com­bi­na­tion of dig­i­tal sys­tems and cap­i­tal­ist in­cen­tives.

‘This is my point: the sys­tem is com­plicit in the abuse. Right now, right here, YouTube and Google are com­plicit in that sys­tem. The ar­chi­tec­ture they have built to ex­tract the max­i­mum rev­enue from on­line video is be­ing hacked by per­sons un­known to abuse chil­dren.

‘I be­lieve they have an ab­so­lute re­spon­si­bil­ity to deal with this.’

Key­words gen­er­ate views which gen­er­ate ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue for the chan­nel and for YouTube.

A spokesman for YouTube re­sponded to the charge of com­plic­ity, say­ing it was an ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary’ claim. ‘YouTube is for age 13 and up. Any­one un­der that age should use YouTube Kids, which is much more con­trolled and doesn’t have that kind of con­tent in it.’

She said YouTube had up­dated its pol­icy to specif­i­cally ad­dress a new form of con­tent where peo­ple were creat­ing con­tent aimed at chil­dren and us­ing adult themes.

‘We are not com­plicit in any­thing and we are re­spond­ing to a new style of con­tent as re­spon­si­bly as we pos­si­bly can.’

‘Re­spond­ing to a new style of con­tent’

dis­turb­ing: Char­ac­ters from chil­dren’s shows such as Peppa Pig are placed in un­set­tling sce­nar­ios

un­set­tling: Videos draw on icons of con­tem­po­rary chil­dren’s cul­ture

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