With reports of molestation, killings, and just plain creepy clowns on its supposed child-friendly channel, YouTube is not something you want to let your kids watch unsupervised.
I’m probably not the only dad in the world who will, from time to time, hand his kids an iPad and let them watch stuff on YouTube. It’s been a reasonably safe and easy option (up until now) to distract them for half an hour while I deal with laundry or dishes or get some writing done.
I was happy to know my eldest boy had his couple of kid-friendly go-to channels he loved to watch. And I could take a dump in peace for a change.
His choices were good. Bootleg episodes of Peppa Pig, the beloved rotund pink anthropomorphic pork dinner who routinely gets into all sorts of hilarious scrapes with her family and friends. The Octonauts, which features a bunch of animals living in a submarine exploring the ocean and teaching kids about unusual marine life.
As he’s got older, a third channel has come into rotation, hosted by a UK guy in his twenties named DanTDM (real name Daniel Middleton). He has a voice that sounds like the shrill end of a call over the intercom in a supermarket for a “price check on super-maxi tampons”, and the energy of a hardcore raver a few minutes shy of midnight.
(As an aside, DanTDM is also the highest-earning YouTube star for 2017. He has 16 million subscribers. By sitting in his house and filming himself playing video games, he’s managed to earn just shy of $22 million this year.)
It’s completely insane but as far as YouTube content goes, he’s pretty benign.
But very recently, I’ve learned some truly terrifying things. Something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong with YouTube.
YouTube uncensored and unfiltered
Here’s the thing. Like much of what’s online, YouTube is almost impossible to moderate. Every minute of everyday, 300 hours of video are uploaded.
Much of it’s fine. Some of it is questionable. And a fraction of it is entirely unfit for human consumption – and that’s where the moderators come in.
In an attempt to provide parents with a kid-friendly viewing platform, YouTube launched the YouTube Kids app which promised to be a safe space for kids to watch nice things that also taught them stuff.
However, things recently went bad. Very, very bad.
Videos began to emerge that managed to get around the YouTube censorship algorithms. Videos that showed Peppa Pig being hanged until she died, or stabbing her family to death.
Videos that showed people dressed up as characters like Elsa from Frozen engaged in what is clearly sexually-charged situations with some guy dressed as Spider-man.
Videos that showed children being used to make money, by putting them in situations that were physically, psychologically, and/or sexually harmful.
And worse still … innocent videos that children themselves had posted to YouTube, where the comments section was a near-endless stream of foul comments from paedophiles, encouraging the children to post more videos or to take their clothes off.
And a lot of this was readily available via the YouTube Kids app! [For an in-depth analysis of “Elsagate”, read James Bridle’s blog.]
So in the 30 minutes where you thought your toddler would be fine clicking away on the recommended Peppa Pig videos, there’s a pretty good chance they stumbled upon a fake Peppa Pig video which involved sexualised violence.
Or clicked on what look like an innocent video showing children playing only to show those same children being injected in the buttocks and screaming.
Honestly … what the f*ck, YouTube?
What’s YouTube doing about it?
YouTube now knows about the issue and has shut down a number of high-profile channels that have been marketed at children but could only be described as child abuse.
It’s also deleted more than 100,000 videos that showed highly inappropriate content. And it declared it’s hiring 10,000 more people to comb through the daily uploads and weed out anything that either exploits kids, or it deems inappropriate for children to watch.
But that won’t undo a lot of the damage that’s already been done by YouTube being asleep at the switch.
Safer places for kids to watch
There are plenty of better options for toddlers to get their Peppa Pig or Octonauts fix on the iPad when you need 30 minutes to get dinner on.
The best is the ABC for Kids app which is free to download and has tons of content from the ABC4Kids channel where you don’t have to worry about Peppa Pig going rogue and slaughtering her family.
If you want something more interactive (which is better for little minds), here’s a solid list of educational games that are perfect for toddlers to go to.
Last of all is the obligatory warning.
iPads are no substitute for parental supervision, and in the wake of what happened with YouTube Kids, it’s even more important that parents make sure that their little ones aren’t watching videos that could warp their little minds.
While Youtube have removed a lot of the offending videos, it won’t be long before the creeps making money off them figure out a way around this. So unless you’re okay with your toddler stumbling across Spider-man sexually assaulting Elsa, you’ll need to pay closer attention to what your kids are watching online.