The YouTube Issues Just Keep Getting Worse: Here's What You Need to Know
The last few weeks have been difficult for YouTube. The video platform has faced a growing number of criticisms about its handling of user-uploaded videos, many of them concerning children and child exploitation. It’s left many users concerned about their own child safety on the platform, as well as their opinion on the service in general. Are these new problems a one-off or an inevitable consequence of YouTube’s popularity? Let’s take a closer look at the issues currently plaguing YouTube, why they’re happening, and what you can do to protect yourself from them.
The Pew Research Center Survey And New Reports Of Child Exploitation
In December, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey among parents about online safety. The results showed that 72% of parents had seen their child come across inappropriate content online, and about half of those surveyed had discovered that their child had been exposed to sexual content. The content in question ranged from pornographic images to videos, from adult-only content to content that had been created and uploaded by minors.
The survey received a lot of media attention, with some critics blaming YouTube for the widespread problem. Some critics even pointed to the fact that Pew’s survey had included “other” as one of the possible choices for inappropriate content, allowing respondents to interpret “other” as “YouTube videos and comments”.
Google’s Content ID Problem
If you’re a regular YouTube user, you’ve probably seen Google’s Content ID pop up on your screen more than once. This automated system was designed to help creators identify copyright violations and remove the violating content, but it has also been deployed as a weapon in the ongoing fight against child exploitation. In other words, some people are exploiting the automated system to censor innocent videos targeted at children based on nothing more than their use of copyrighted material.
This problem has been particularly rampant with music, as the Content ID system is often unable to identify the original song of a cover song by children. As a result, children’s covers of popular songs have been removed and the children who created them have been forced to change their songs.
TGFBS (That’s “tricked-out, boosted, baked and smashed”) videos
In July 2018, a report by the BBC highlighted the existence of “tricked-out” videos aimed at children and uploaded to YouTube. These videos are clearly aimed at children and, in some cases, include advertisements for toys or products that are featured in the video. The BBC report focused primarily on videos by the YouTubers Squeezie and Ello. Both YouTubers have since created posts to address the issue, with Squeezie apologizing for the problematic content and encouraging other YouTubers to be more aware when creating content for children.
Ello, however, has not apologized for the content in question, instead defending the videos as “entertainment”. Unfortunately, this type of content has been a problem on YouTube for some time, with little being done to protect children from it.
YouTube’s Child Protection Problem Is Bigger Than That
Like Squeezie’s and Ello’s videos, many of the challenged videos have been advertisements for toys or products. Others, however, have been more sinister, with some featuring sexual material and even child exploitation. The BBC report also mentions a disturbing trend among YouTubers, in which they will utilize children for the sake of making money. In some cases, the children are encouraged to play with toys that are being advertised, while in others, they are seemingly expected to act out sexual situations.
These videos are disturbing and, if they are as extensive as some reports suggest, they indicate a serious problem in the YouTube platform’s regulations and moderators. In fact, a report by the Verge suggests that YouTube’s moderation issues are far more extensive than even the child exploitation videos suggest. The Verge report found a number of disturbing videos in its own child-directed channels, including videos that encourage children to engage in dangerous activities and videos that are seemingly inappropriate for children at all.
In one case, a disturbing video was uploaded by the child themselves, who was not old enough to be using YouTube on their own.
How to Protect Yourself While Using YouTube
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself while using YouTube. First, you can keep an eye out for inappropriate content in your child-directed YouTube channels. The Verge report even suggests that you “think of it like monitoring what they might see at school”. If you find inappropriate content or a channel that seems dangerous for a child, report it and notify YouTube either from the channel or from YouTube’s website.
Finally, you can create parental controls for your child’s YouTube channel. Doing so will give you the power to disable certain content, turn off the ability for other people to comment, and set viewing hours for your child.
Final Words: Is YouTube Still Worth It ?
The problems outlined above are a serious cause for concern, but they are not representative of the entire platform. In fact, as a parent of young children, I am incredibly thankful for YouTube. In addition to being a great source of education, YouTube provides endless entertainment for my children. They can learn about almost anything and can do so in the comfort of their own home, without the pressure of school or social interaction. Moreover, it’s a great way to get out of the house and do something with your kids.
You can search for videos based on your child’s interests and use them as a way to spark conversation and encourage learning while spending time together. With all that said, it may be worth it to sign up for a dedicated streaming service that offers parental controls specifically aimed at children. Doing so will ensure that the only content your child sees is the content you want them to see.