Do you have kids who love YouTube videos? Then you’ll want to listen up.
Disturbing content is slipping through filters designed to shield young viewers from precisely that—and you may not even be aware your kids have been exposed to it. What appears to be a cute animated video featuring favorite cartoon characters might instead show them engaging in lewd behavior or cheerfully committing suicide—even on the “I thought it was safe” YouTube Kids app.
Got your attention yet?
As the NY Times reports, content creators are finding ways around YouTube’s content algorithms and targeting the most vulnerable and least internet savvy audience: children. What it means for users is that more and more videos that could give any parent—let alone any child—nightmares may be playing on your kids’ devices. These videos have innocent sounding names, titled with keywords like “family friendly” and “super cute toys”or “learning fun”—but they’re anything but.
So how is it happening? Why are these filters failing? It’s largely due to a lack of human input in the filtering process since computers can’t differentiate between the appropriateness level of categorized content.
Oddly enough, it’s the same reason that as a parent, I feel as much to blame in the possibility of my kids viewing this kind of content: lack of human input.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve handed my kids an iPad and a pair of headphones when I need a few minutes of peace or ten minutes to shower in silence. Those devices can be a godsend for exhausted parents, and can even be a great learning tool for curious minds. My kids have instructions to only watch videos from channels we subscribe to, but are they following those rules 100% of the time? I honestly have no idea, but I have a feeling the answer is no—if for no other reason than it is incredibly easy to go down the rabbit hole of related videos that pop up so conveniently on the periphery.
What I can tell you is this: we had a serious conversation with our kids last night about the rules for watching YouTube in our home, and we went through our account settings with an extremely critical eye. I was surprised to learn that settings I had enabled on our iPad didn’t translate to our desktop computer—meaning YouTube was operating there completely unfiltered.
Parents, we have to be vigilant—even more than we think is necessary. Because the sad reality is there are depraved people out there who would love nothing more than to corrupt our children and attack their innocence, through whatever means available—even the ones we think are safe. It’s up to us to be the first and last lines of defense for our children in this ever-evolving digital world.