YouTube is speaking out after being accused of allowing people to exploit their features to share child pornography. This is an incredibly complex situation with a lot of layers, but essentially, it seems some very shady people have been abusing site features to actively harm children.
Frighteningly, this is really just the beginning… and it may not even be all YouTube’s fault. If you have children of your own – or perhaps grandchildren – you need to know about this situation in order to keep them safe. We’ll explain everything and give you simple tips to help stay safe online after the jump.
- Video creator, Matt Watson, first broke the news (ironically, in this onsite video) after he discovered what he calls a “wormhole” into a soft-core pedophilia ring on YouTube. He explains that child exploiters have been abusing the site’s “recommended videos” algorithm to connect with one another.
- How this wormhole works is really quite simple. YouTube’s recommended videos feature essentially helps you drill down to find videos similar to what you’re already watching; it then presents them in the sidebar.
- In theory, this leads to watchers finding more videos they’re likely to enjoy, rather than despise. Let’s say you’re watching country music videos; YouTube is more likely to recommend you watch another country music video versus a rap video. Similarly, if you’re watching something about US politics, the new video is likely to be about US politics, too.
- Now, here’s where this becomes a problem. A hypothetical child exploitation video is uploaded to the site; it doesn’t automatically flag for deletion because it doesn’t contain nudity or outright sex. The algorithm doesn’t see it as problematic content, but to anyone with sense, it’s inappropriate.
- Now, you have questionable videos of children on the site – which is bad enough already. Some other criminal uploads a few more, creating them so that they’re similar to the originally-uploaded video. Then, a few more… and a few more… until there are thousands.
- Now, anyone who clicks on that first video is far more likely to automatically find other softcore videos, too. It all comes down to YouTube’s built-in algorithm; that’s what it’s designed to do, albeit it was never meant to be harmful in this manner.
- We wish we could say this is where it ends, but it’s really just the beginning. It seems the vast majority of people using this wormhole, of sorts, have also been connecting with each other and sharing links to real child pornography in the comments. Frustratingly, these don’t seem to be triggering the platform’s built-in protection methods.
- Lastly, there’s one final issue at play. Some of the individuals watching and posting this stuff are adding timestamps (clickable links that bring the video to a specific point) in the comments. The timestamps automatically start the video at points where children are in what the most depraved of our society would see as suggestive poses or positions… making it easier for pedophiles to find what they need.
- Several major advertisers, including Disney, Purina, Epic Games, Nestle, and Peloton have temporarily halted their advertising on the platform. They want YouTube to address the problem and fix this; so do we.
- Now, here’s the only good news in this absolutely vile expose: YouTube isn’t backing down or trying to cover it up. They came right out the day after Matt Watson’s video was published and admitted they see a problem, too. Representatives told Bloomberg, “”Any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube.”
- The platform also took the initiative to explain how they plan to fix the issue. “We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels,” the representative stated, adding that they are also “reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling violative comments.”
- The platform has banned around 400 channels and deleted thousands of videos in the last couple of days. They’re also working behind the scenes to fix the recommended videos algorithm and the reporting function to ensure that wormholes like these don’t flourish ever again.
- As a gesture of good faith, YouTube will also continue to give regular updates on the issue. They also plan to refund all ad revenue attached to the problematic videos within the last little while – around $8,000 worth.
- It’s extremely concerning that this issue continued unchecked unbeknownst to YouTube – but this ultimately seems like more of a tech failing. It doesn’t appear, at least at first glance, as if YouTube was actively trying to profit off of child exploitation. Either way, the problem MUST be fixed now before it continues to be abused – and YouTube thankfully agrees.
Keeping Your Kids Safe on YouTube
We’ll do our best to keep you posted on how YouTube continues to respond to this issue, and whether they identify other large-scale problems. In the meantime, we want to give you some practical advice. If you have kids, care for kids, or are friends with people who have little ones, these safety tips will help you help them stay safe.
- YouTube’s terms of service state that children must be over 13 in order to own an account. Children who are younger should not be on YouTube, even with adult supervision.
- Older teens are not safe from risk. There have been incidents where child predators have reached out to teens directly in private messages. In fact, the level of risk may even be higher than on other platforms, like Facebook, because exploiters get to see children in live video first.
- If you decide to allow your teen to use YouTube, you must be aware that risk extends far beyond just posting your own videos. They can and will encounter extremely adult topics, swearing, severe bullying, death threats and a long list of other potentially difficult experiences while watching videos from others.
- If your teen or child uses YouTube – whether through your account or someone else’s – supervision is key. Have access to your teen’s accounts, logins, passwords and messages at all times; review what they post, comment, and respond to often. If they post videos, ask to review them before they are posted for questionable content.
- Talk with your child about YouTube frankly – including the fact that not everyone on the platform wants what’s best for them. Keeping an open dialogue and encouraging them to show you content that makes them feel uncomfortable, frightened or angry is the best way to prevent major issues.
- Be aware that even videos “for kids,” like cartoons, are not really “safe.” User-generated content (comments) can contain anything from insults to racial epitaphs or even links to pornography.
- Does your family like to record videos to share with family? YouTube is great for this purpose, but you need to take a few precautions. Keep your videos private or unlisted; only give the link or share them to people you trust.
- If your child does post videos, consider disabling the comments. You don’t have to allow them to interact; the platform allows you to control that feature. Sometimes, it’s better to totally remove the risk in the first place.
- Consider running Youtube in “safety mode.” To do this, you change specific settings for Google’s entire suite of products – including YouTube and Google Search, too. Follow this link to learn how to switch into restricted mode from right within your browser.
Just don’t let your kids use YouTube! Contrary to popular belief (according to kids, anyway), all the other kids are not allowed to watch YouTube videos. In fact, there are plenty of parents out there who feel YouTube should be limited to teens 16 or older; if you feel this way, too, that’s okay. It’s a very mature environment and you’re doing what’s best for your little ones. That matters!