A Florida mom said she was letting her son watch videos on YouTube Kids, the child-friendly version of the video sharing platform, when something disturbing popped up.
As the boy watched a video showing cartoons, footage popped up of a man wearing sunglasses that instructed children on how to commit suicide by slitting their wrists. As The Huffington Post noted, mom Free Hess was so disturbed by the finding that she reached out immediately to YouTube and put out a call to action to other groups to alert the platform. Still, it took a full week for the video to be removed, she said.
A month later, the video was back.
“It makes me angry and sad and frustrated,” Hess told CNN (via The Huffington Post).
“I’m a pediatrician, and I’m seeing more and more kids coming in with self harm and suicide attempts. I don’t doubt that social media and things such as this is contributing.”
Hess explored the YouTube Kids platform more and found similar videos, ones showing violence, sexual exploitation, and suicide. YouTube had already been engulfed in a scandal after videos were found aimed at children and showing popular cartoon characters that were filled with violent and sexually aggressive themes, leading the site to crack down on its security procedures.
The report of the Florida mom’s finding on YouTube Kids comes just a week after another viral YouTube report that uncovered a vast network of videos exploiting children. The video was compiled by a YouTuber named MattsWhatItIs, showing how the site’s algorithm could be gamed to show nothing but exploitative videos of young children. The user opened a new account and found a video of a preteen girl, which triggered the site to suggest more videos of young children.
In these videos, other users posted timestamps of points in the video where the children were in compromising positions. The users also made inappropriate comments and reportedly even shared links to child pornography. Commenting had been disabled on some of the videos, suggesting that YouTube had been alerted of the problem yet did nothing to take them down.
Mom finds video on YouTube Kids giving instructions for suicide https://t.co/nAELhzp5pD— Civil Process Server (@ProcessCivil) February 25, 2019
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you are not alone. Our partner Lifeline @800273TALK can help.— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 10, 2018
Many of the exploitative videos also had advertising from major companies. In the backlash, many of these companies announced that they would be suspending advertising on YouTube, with the health company GNC and Walt Disney both announcing that they were pulling ads.
YouTube responded to the report about the child finding a suicide instruction video by noting that it constantly reviews feedback from viewers and works to remove videos that fall outside of guidelines.