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Consumer alert: YouTube under fire for videos attracting child predators

Big name advertisers halt ad spending in response
Posted: 8:38 AM, Feb 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-25 10:38:47-05

YouTube is rushing to respond to concerns that the site does a poor job monitoring the content and comments on billions of videos. The latest controversy began last week when a user exposed what he called a "soft core pedophile ring.”

In some cases, seemingly innocent videos of girls have been hijacked by child predators leaving disturbing comments and time-stamping moments where the kids were in certain positions to tell fellow predators when to look at the videos. Some of those videos were even accompanied by ads.

In response, companies including Disney, Nestle, Epic Games and AT&T suspended ad buys on YouTube. The video platform responded by removing hundreds of channels and disabling comments on millions of videos.

But some industry watchers are calling for YouTube to do more.

"Clearly, it’s not YouTube's intention to host this kind of material, but the increasing challenge for them is they’re run by an algorithm — they’re not hand-curating and selecting everything and reviewing everything adamantly or adequately for that matter," said VP Editor in Chief of Common Sense Media Jill Murphy.

While YouTube has more than 10,000 human employees, as well as artificial intelligence, to monitor content, critics have accused YouTube's own "related video" algorithm of contributing to the problem. Murphy said YouTube's business model based on quantity is part of the problem.

"They’re an ad revenue model so the more content they have, the more advertisers they have, the more money they can make, but is that the way we want to serve content to kids?" she said.

While the number of videos on YouTube can seem overwhelming — up to 400 new hours uploaded every minute — some believe it's up to the consumer to safely and responsibly navigate the platform. And parents may just want to keep younger kids off the site altogether, even if it means paying for other video sites.

"In general, I think it’s worth a little bit of money every month to stay out of the free YouTube stuff," said Steve Beaty, a computer science professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "There are plenty of other channels on cable and places where you can get content that’s much more controlled."

Common Sense Media has a list of YouTube alternatives for all ages of kids.

As for children who want to post their own content on YouTube, or start their own channels, Beaty has a warning.

"I think it’s very important for people to recognize that once their content goes up on YouTube, it might be used for purposes they had no intention for it to be used for," he said.

Parents should review all videos their kids post. You can also adjust settings to keep the channels more private, and you can also disable comments.

Murphy suggested talking to your kids about why they want to post on YouTube and what they like about the videos they watch. She said it's a chance to talk to kids about fame and celebrity, and teach them about the influence advertising has in our lives.

"Kids are viewing this as content, but they're just commercials," she said.