It’s a nightmare for parents and kids alike.
YouTube Kids is a service that was developed four years ago to serve up only child-friendly content in hope of making parents’ lives easier. Just leave your little one on a couch within earshot with an iPad while you accomplish some much-needed chores. No need to worry about what they’re watching if the app has “Kids” in the name, right?
As it turns out, the system is far from flaw-free, as YouTube reps themselves have said. For more than a year now, the app has been struggling to eliminate disturbing videos that seem, on the surface, highly educational for growing brains.
The most well-known example of this was the viral “Johny Johny Yes Papa” video, which distorted a kids’ music video about not telling lies or eating sugar that starred an animated baby into graphics seemingly inspired by demonic possession.
Other upsetting clips that, before being taken down, came up “by following recommendations in YouTube’s sidebar or simply allowing children’s videos to autoplay, starting with legitimate content,” per Wired, included violence against children, Peppa Pig eating bacon and PAW Patrol characters attempting suicide.
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Much of this content is allowed to play via an algorithm which, the outlet reported, is designed to maximize viewing time and not pick the best or most age-appropriate content. In addition, misleading search terms like “Mickey Mouse” or “Donald Duck cartoon” can bring them up.
The Google-owned company has taken steps since the problem first emerged to prevent such videos from spreading. In June 2017, it released updated guidelines preventing “content that depicts family entertainment characters engaged in violent, sexual, vile or otherwise inappropriate behavior, even if done for comedic or satirical purposes” from earning any ad revenue.
And a November 2017 blog post promised the site would more strictly enforce community guidelines on YouTube and the kids platform, as well as block inappropriate comments on kid-friendly videos.
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More recently, in September, the ability for parents to let their kids watch only content that they’ve manually approved became available. Adults can select specific videos, channels or playlists for the child to watch, and in this mode, they will not be able to search for any additional videos.
When selecting collections of videos, the YouTube Kids team suggests it’s best to opt for “trusted partners,” a feature launched in April. It includes familiar names like PBS Kids and Sesame Workshop.
As YouTube’s restrictions get more advanced, it’s always possible the perpetrators of such disturbing content will find ways around them, which is why blocking and reporting inappropriate content is recommended by the team’s product director.