Complaints About Objectionable Content on YouTube Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

The New York Times recently published a disturbing story by journalist Sapna Maheshwari on the amount of inappropriate content slipping past Google’s filters for YouTube Kids.

Launched in 2015, YouTube Kids was a mother’s prayer answered, a dad’s dream come true – an almost endless supply of free, kid-friendly content. With over ten million weekly viewers, YouTube Kids success is unquestionable. However, sometimes by accident, sometimes by intent, objectionable videos are finding their way into the kid-zone. Many popular Disney and Nickelodeon characters are portrayed in lewd, suggestive or violent situations, exposing children to the exact type of content the filters are meant to block.

Parents have complained, and some have voiced those complaints on social media, including posting warnings on Facebook.

One account, Subin TV, features a video with the description “Paw Patrol Full Episodes, Pups Save Chase” but the video contains sexual situations and violence. Another shows “PAW Patrol” characters in a strip club yet the description says “Video created with the purpose of learning and development of children!”

YouTube’s global head of family and learning content, Malik Ducard, says the inappropriate videos are “the extreme needle in the haystack” and “making the app family friendly is of the utmost importance to us.”

This isn’t a new issue for YouTube. They’ve been aware of the failure of their algorithms and have been working to solve the issue for several years but, with 400 hours of content being uploaded every minute, YouTube is struggling to ensure what’s labeled “family friendly” actually is.

Of course, Disney and Nickelodeon are aware their content can be manipulated or counterfeited to create disturbing knock-offs. “Nickelodeon creates its characters and shows to entertain kids, so we share the same concern as parents about the unsuitable nature of some of the videos being served to them,” said David Bittler, a spokesman for the network. In a separate statement, a Disney spokesman stated YouTube Kids has assured them it is “working on ways to more effectively and proactively prevent this type of situation from occurring.”

Keith Collins of Quartz Media argues sites like Facebook and Google (owner of YouTube) need humans, not just algorithms, to filter content. But until Google and YouTube Kids put actual people on the job, parents should be mindful of what could potentially slip through the cracks. The vast majority of the content on YouTube Kids is perfectly acceptable but supervision and real-life parental control are the keys to keeping your kids safe. You’d never let your child roam a public park unsupervised and the Internet is no less dangerous.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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