WARNING: This post describes videos that appear to show children distressed or being abused. However, it does not contain disturbing images.
YouTube is the home of cat videos, beauty reviews and goats bleating Taylor Swift songs – all the good things in life. But recently the video sharing platform has been the subject of reports about disturbing videos that could be described as depicting child abuse.
So what’s going on and what is YouTube doing to stop it?
Listen: People are creating fake Peppa Pig videos and your child could be seeing them.
Children in exploitative positions.
News sites Buzzfeed and New York Times were the first to lift the lid on this seedy side of YouTube this month, with Buzzfeed providing the site itself with channels and videos they found questionable, which the site has since removed.
Buzzfeed describes the videos it saw, many of which came from eastern Europe, as featuring “young children, often in revealing clothing, placed in vulnerable scenarios”.
Many videos showed children restrained with ropes or tape – sometimes crying or visibly distressed. Other times they were “kidnapped” or made to “play doctor” with an adult, or simulated receiving an injection, eating feces or peeing on others. It’s terrifying to note that many of these videos came from YouTube ‘verified’ channels and had tens of millions of views, according to Buzzfeed.
Popular channel Toy Freaks, which featured a single dad and his two daughters, was one of the channels deleted last week.
"We’ve terminated the Toy Freaks channel for violation of our policies,” a YouTube spokesperson told Variety in a statement. Owner Greg Chism told the publication YouTube had informed him it had concerns his videos "were attracting audience members who do not have childrens' best interests in their hearts".
Reading between the lines here, we can only assume that the videos, which showed the girls acting as "bad babies" with dummies in their mouths, and throwing food or pretending to vomit - were being viewed by some with the same lens as that of image-based child abuse material.
Certainly, there are other videos YouTube has deleted which overtly depict children being harmed. However, because by most accounts the videos show children only pretending to be harmed, it took YouTube a longer time to judge the videos as inappropriate and potentially viewed by people who get sexual enjoyment from seeing children act in this way.
Videos like those reportedly appeared on the account Mister Tisha, which included one of a man dressed as clown shoving a child into a washing machine. Some of Mister Tisha' other videos involve children undergoing fake dentistry procedures with fake blood on them.
Other users' videos involve children being attacked by fake spiders or mock kidnapped and tortured by men in masks. Meanwhile, there were dozens more that showed young girls in singlet tops speaking and singing to the camera. We are not going to show screenshots of these videos.
What's YouTube doing about these videos?
In a statement on the company's website on Wednesday, YouTube vice president of product management Johanna Wright announced YouTube was taking further action against "unacceptable" videos involving children.
"We have always had strict policies against child endangerment, and we partner closely with regional authorities and experts to help us enforce these policies and report to law enforcement," Wright said.
"In the last couple of weeks we expanded our enforcement guidelines around removing content featuring minors that may be endangering a child, even if that was not the uploader’s intent.
"In the last week we terminated over 50 channels and have removed thousands of videos under these guidelines, and we will continue to work quickly to remove more every day."
YouTube added that it would also take "an even more aggressive stance" on inappropriate comments on videos featuring children, by not just deleting the ones they see, but by turning off all comments on videos of minors where we they these types of comments.
What about the disturbing children's content?
YouTube is also taking steps to prevent children from seeing not-at-all child-friendly fake cartoons of their favourite characters. Parents have noticed fake cartoon videos, including ones where Peppa Pig is chased by a zombie, and in another has her teeth pulled out at the dentist, available to watch through the restricted platform Youtube Kids.
BBC Trending has since found hundreds of videos involving characters from Frozen, the Minions and Thomas the Tank Engine and others, which are all fake videos and put the characters in frightening or violent situations.
YouTube announced in August it would no longer allow creators to make money via advertising on these videos and was taking steps to ensure children could no longer access them.
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