kids

The disturbing YouTube videos that are traumatising children.

Whether you’re in a fancy restaurant, stuck in a waiting room or on a long car trip, there’s no denying that iPads and tablets keep children well-behaved, entertained and most of all – quiet.

One of the most popular apps used by kids and parents alike is YouTube Kids, which reaches more than 11 million weekly viewers.

Unlike the standard YouTube app, YouTube Kids promises to deliver safe, kid-friendly content, including clips from popular Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows.

From toy unboxings to nursery rhymes and Frozen singalongs, kids have plenty of options for entertaining and educational videos on the app.

But there is a dark, troubling side to YouTube Kids.

Although the majority of YouTube’s children’s content is completely safe, inappropriate videos continue to slip through the cracks, exposing children to videos depicting their favourite characters – like Frozen’s Elsa and Spider-Man – in violent and suggestive situations.

Listen: We discuss the disturbing YouTube videos for kids on Mamamia’s parenting podcast This Glorious Mess. (Post continues after audio.)

Parents and users of the YouTube Kids app have noticed an influx of these inappropriate videos, including one where a claymation Spider-Man is urinating on Elsa, one where Minnie Mouse sits on a toilet seat covered in nails, and another, where Paw Patrol characters commit suicide after being hypnotized by a demon.

An innocent child’s search for ‘Minions’, ‘Frozen’, or ‘Princess Rapunzel’ could lead a child to animations or even live-action performances featuring these popular characters in lewd situations.

Common themes featured in these videos include violence, kidnapping, pregnancy and abortion, simulated sexual acts, alcoholism and a strange emphasis on urination and feces.

The YouTube Kids app filters out most of these videos. But many are missed.

On a digital media platform that relies on an algorithm, rather than humans, to police videos, it’s inevitable that some inappropriate videos will slip through the cracks.

"The YouTube Kids app filters out most of these videos. But many are missed." Image via Getty.
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Uploaders of YouTube's inappropriate kid's cartoons are getting smarter too, with uploaders using seemingly normal video titles to confuse the YouTube algorithm and get through to the screens of kids.

Some of these videos have millions of views and uploaders are accumulating ad revenue, while simultaneously traumatising children.

James Bridle, a technology-focused artist, and writer has described the exposure of inappropriate content to children on YouTube Kids as "infrastructural violence".

"Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale," Bridle wrote in an essay published on Medium.

Bridle described "very young children, effectively from birth" being deliberately targeted with content which will undoubtedly traumatise and disturb them.

YouTube have been criticised for putting too much faith in their algorithm, especially when it comes to delivering safe, age-appropriate content on YouTube Kids.

YouTube’s global head of family and learning content, Malik Ducard, told the New York Times that the inappropriate videos were "the extreme needle in the haystack,” and also added that “making the app family friendly is of the utmost importance to us".

Parents are encouraged to report unsuitable videos, which are then manually reviewed and removed if necessary. The problem is, by that point, the damage is already done.

In a statement on their website last week, YouTube's vice president of product management Johanna Wright announced the company was taking further action against unacceptable videos.

Wright added that over 50 YouTube channels have been terminated and thousands of videos have been removed so far.

Only time will tell if this is enough.

Listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess here.

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