A recent article in The New York Times has alerted parents everywhere to a problem that many had no idea about. Inappropriate videos, some deeply disturbing, are slipping through content filters and showing up on kids' tablets in the YouTube Kids app — an app parents trust to filter out such content.
Kid-friendly apps and content are widely used and relied upon by parents everywhere.
Waiting rooms at the pediatrician’s office, long-distance drives, and rainy afternoons are a little easier when we can hand over a tablet full of games and apps to entertain our little ones. The makers of these apps have always said that their use should be under close parental supervision, but let’s be real: if a kid is sitting quietly with a tablet, we can finally do something else for a few minutes. Most of the time, we’re not sitting beside our children, watching inane videos of people opening toys or playing video games.
Mega-popular YouTubers like stampylonghead have millions of subscribers, because kids love watching videos of other people playing video games. (No one knows why.)
There’s no question that kids watch and love inane videos. Parents don’t have to understand it to appreciate those rare minutes of quiet, occupied children.
Author’s aside: I have heard stampy’s voice in the background for years, but I’ve never actually seen one of his videos. So, yeah, we’re not sitting beside our children watching this stuff with them. And that’s why there’s a problem.
Parents trusted YouTube Kids to provide a curated collection of age-appropriate videos. But it's not a foolproof system by any means.
It turns out, the algorithms for determining a video’s content are extremely complicated, and that lets some disturbing stuff slip through the cracks. Videos that feature beloved children’s characters in disturbing, violent, and even sexual situations are mixed in with the millions of other perfectly fine videos on the platform. The disturbing videos range from odd to deeply twisted.
These disturbing videos often feature pirated and voiced-over content, and easily look like the real thing, until weird stuff starts happening.
In this video, which has recently been removed from YouTube, containers of bleach are added into an otherwise normal Peppa Pig (a popular British cartoon character) scene. A deep computerized voice interjects comments and words as the scene plays out, like, “It was a boring ass day…”
Peppa Pig is a major player on YouTube, and is, unfortunately, frequently featured in deranged content.
Another video that has been removed in the last couple of days features a creepy flasher who introduces Peppa to bacon. She eventually eats her father and is seen at the end peeling her own arm with a vegetable peeler to get more bacon.
One could argue that these videos are satire, but for young children, they could be extremely disturbing. Michael Rich, a Harvard Medical School pediatrics professor and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, explained that videos like these are especially disturbing for children. “It’s just made that much more upsetting by the fact that characters they thought they knew and trusted are behaving in these ways,” he said.