The dangerous content now being made to profit from young kids is inexcusable.

 

 

In this video below, a popular pre-school character Peppa Pig is hanging by a noose-the victim of a lynch mob, violently stabbing her brother, then her family is in a 50 Shades sex scene!

Millions of kids actually view this kind of content. In my latest publication I explain how and why m is  what it does to them, and tips for parents. My article is below. It was published here https://lnkd.in/gNrCpxH

 

The worrying new safety issue effecting young children watching online videos

Imagine a 3 year in front of screen watching one of their favourite characters (Peppa Pig) hanging by a noose- the victim of a lynch mob. As the video continues the child sees Peppa explicitly swearing, violently stabbing her brother; and then Peppa’s family acting out sex scene inspired by 50 Shades of Grey.

Young children have rapidly become prolific users of the internet and watching online videos has emerged as a favourite pastime for this age group. While many of the videos are suitable, others use unscrupulous gimmicky methods to profit from this young and impressionable audience.

What children are viewing

My audit of these videos shows that they fall into 3 categories. Some are parody cartoon videos that depict well-known characters in violent or lewd situations. For example, there are videos of Elsa (from the Disney movie Frozen) with a machine gun, and Paw Patrol characters (a Nickelodeon show popular among pre-schoolers) visiting a brothel.

Other clips depict disturbing imagery, characters or storylines. These include for example videos titled ‘Dad Punches Kid in Face’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X16UOQzvna4) a video which depicts a father punching his young child in the face for ‘being naughty’.

Equally worrying, other videos elicit sneaky advertising tactics to persuade children to buy new products. For example, Ryan’s Toy Review is one such video channel with over 4 billion video views. While the content of this category of videos is generally not violent or sexual, it equates to children sitting in front of never-ending ads day after day; the harm is obvious.

Why kids watch these videos

The way that children engage with the questionable online videos can be perplexing, and worrying, for parents, however, when put in the context of what we know about key behavioural characteristics of children as they develop, it’s not that surprising.

  1. The videos often feature something that children are really interested in – toys, playing and/or their popular characters they know–all of which is very enticing. If a child is a fan of the characters, or even own some of the toys depicted in the video, the connection will be even stronger.
  2. Many of the videos portray odd and unexpected events and from a child development perspective, things that are conceptually incongruous are odd are a great source of humour for young children. Seeing things such as an adult wearing a nappy, or their favourite wholesome character being evil, can be very funny and appealing for a pre-schooler.
  3. Many of these videos centre on taking a new present or toy out of a box. As any kid on Christmas morning will tell you, guessing what’s inside the wrapping is half the fun. It will also likely conjure up happy memories for the children of receiving a present themselves. Some of the videos feature child presenters – children enjoy watching their peers on the screen, and they get pleasure from watching others open presents. The problem is that it can also fuel an incredible desire and anticipation for these particular toys or products.

How this issue occurred

Regardless of their amusing appeal to kids, children are seeing video content which is communicating worrying messages. They are not produced by reputable content producers but rather are shady knock-offs created by anonymous users who are lying in wait, gaming internet search algorithms to automatically play their video as soon as the last clip the child is watching finishes.

Even though a child may be on an internet-based video sharing platform for kids, this does not mean that all inappropriate content will be effectively filtered out. For example, a child might search ‘Peppa Pig’ and whatever videos are titled or tagged with ‘Peppa Pig’ appear on their search list. The problem however is that filtering algorithms can’t seem to tell the difference between Peppa Pig helping her brother or stabbing him. Based on the original search, more suggested videos then appear. Parents state that it is in the suggested videos that the worrying content often appears. (https://theoutline.com/post/1239/youtube-has-a-fake-peppa-pig-problem).

These videos are a big, lucrative business and to capitalise on this process, the algorithms are now informing what are produced. Recent research (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1707.00971.pdf) shows that as a result, children are increasingly exposed to videos containing advertising and disturbing images that are indistinguishable from regular programming.

What to do now

An algorithmic approach removes a layer of ethics that is included when humans make decisions in production of content. It has proven to be an inadequate substitute for creating a safe environment for children. YouTube Kids is a very popular site that kids watch these videos and Google has pledged to improve its algorithms. In a recent blog post (https://youtube.googleblog.com/2017/11/5-ways-were-toughening-our-approach-to.html) Google state that amongst other changes, in the last week they terminated over 50 channels and have removed thousands of videos under their newly revised Community Guidelines.  Another issue that Google could address is allowing the option to turn off suggested videos automatically playing, which is also a central issue.

What parents can do

 More than 400 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute however which makes this issue difficult to manage. While it is very important that the issue is being addressed, amendments will likely take a while. It is therefore important for parents to use strategies to ensure safety in their own home. 4 things parents can do right now: Report and block anything inappropriate
Install an ad blocker (very easy to do and free), turning on restricted mode (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/174084), drawing up a personal video playlist for your child much like a music playlist), and watch online videos with your child (not necessarily all of every video but enough to be familiar with what they are watching).

The online world is in a constant state of innovation and requires us to be ever watchful of changes that occur and to understand the effect on the user, whether it be adult or child, and to ensure that we address them in ways that ensure that the internet is a positive part of life.