After campaigners accused YouTube of infrastructural violence against children, the Google-owned video platform has promised to crackdown on disturbing videos featuring gore, abuse and sexual violence. The new policy is supposed to be enforced on content that doesn’t necessarily break YouTube’s rules, but features vulgar language, violence, nudity, sexually suggestive content and portrayal of harmful and dangerous activities.
Effective immediately, the new YouTube policy will prevent age restricted videos from being seen by users who are not logged in and those who have entered their age as below 18. Who does this policy concern, how does it work and will it prevent violent, disturbing content from traumatizing children?
This crackdown does not come as a surprise. YouTube is absolutely flooded with extremely violent, inappropriate, sexually suggestive videos targeted at children. The phenomenon has been dubbed Elsagate.
Elsagate – conspiracies and facts
These bizarre videos have birthed an entire subculture of sorts. They are being discussed in quite a few, the general public would call them, “conspiracy-minded” internet communities, with perhaps the biggest, the most vigilant and the most important one being Reddit’s /r/elsagate subreddit (subreddit is a separate forum within a forum, dedicated to a particular topic). How did it all start?
The name Elsagate is derived from bizarre videos featuring Elsa from the Disney cartoon Frozen and Spiderman indulging in despicable acts no child should ever see. Gore, violence, sexual fetishism, abuse and rape are the prevailing themes in such videos. Along with these internet communities, countless theories about what these videos are and who they’re supposed to target have emerged. The term “Elsagate” itself has also evolved and it is no longer used to describe just videos featuring the Frozen franchise character, it is instead used to describe any video, animated or not, targeted at children, that contains these disturbing messages. A lot is being said about what is now known as Elsagate, but it is always best to stick to the facts. So, what do we know so far?
Elsagate videos can, essentially, be classified into two main categories:
- Animated videos – Some of them home made and some of them clearly high-budget, animation videos typically feature popular nursery rhymes, franchise characters and Elsagate-typical themes.
- Live action videos – Even more disturbing than animated videos, live action videos contain graphic content, nudity and real actors, sometimes children.
There’s hundreds of channels producing these videos and it is blatantly obvious that they’re being produced all over the world. Most of them, however, seem to originate from Russia, Thailand and the USA. Bizarrely, they are strikingly similar and, if not for the dialogue, one could easily (and wrongly) conclude that they’ve been created by the same person or by the same team of people. What do they have in common?
- Incoherent plot or lack thereof
- Recurring symbolism and objects (needles, spiders, enemas)
- Popular franchise characters (Elsa, Spiderman, the Joker, Peppa Pig, to name a few)
- Nudity and/or sexually suggestive poses
- Erotic fetishism
- Bright colors
- Random noises and popular nursery rhymes
- Punishment-reward dynamic among participants, whether real or animated
The videos may not be coherent, but many proponents of the Elsagate theory claim this is an organized and orchestrated attempt to condition children into believing abuse is perfectly natural. Furthermore, they state these videos are normalizing pedophilia and different forms of violence, grooming children. Creating an entire generation of potential abusers and victims.
One can only hope that is not the case, but patterns keep emerging. Artist, writer, technologist and publisher, James Bridle, in his piece about Elsagate, published on Medium and quoted in the Guardian, had the following to say.
“Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatize, and abuse children, automatically and at scale.”
The comments below most of these videos are particularly disturbing. A lot of them are written by individuals who are, clearly, not afraid to out themselves as pedophiles. On the other hand, many of these comments contain what some believe to be encrypted messages. Seemingly an incoherent mess of symbols, emojis and letters, these comments are thought by some to be encrypted, coded communication between pedophiles. Whether that is the truth or not, we do not know yet. No one has cracked the code, if there is a code to crack.
Those who oppose the “coded communication” theory, claim these comments are written by software – bots which are meant to boost a video’s ranking in YouTube’s search engine. Others think this is small children typing random letters as they watch these videos on their parents’ smartphones and tablets.
How do Elsagate videos affect children?
Most importantly, how do these videos affect children? No official studies have yet been done, but many distressed parents have come out and shared their stories in the previously mentioned and Elsagate-dedicated Reddit forum, /r/elsagate. Quoted below are some of them.
“My son (4) has been completely banned from YouTube for over two months and he still obsessively repeats the strange, distorted screeching and screaming sounds heard in many videos, in deep and growly voices, the ‘red, blue, etc’, the family finger.”
“She wanted to pretend to be a baby a lot. She was 3. She threw tantrums when I wouldn’t let her watch the videos anymore. She was supervised when we did watch them, but always wanted me to click on ones that involved toilets and crying children.”
“My nephew is 6 and has trouble sleeping. Wakes up at night saying he’s dreaming of monsters and blood.”
“I learned about these videos a long while ago because I caught my kids watching them. They thought they were just watching kids shows since they had all their favorite characters. They didn’t really understand what was going on.. which I suspect is part of the point — get them used to it at a young age so if/when it happens to them they think it’s normal.”
Another Reddit user, who claims to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, wrote the following
“You know how you tell kids that they have to get injections even though they hurt because it will make them feel better? That’s the kind of stuff abusers say to kids. ‘Injections’ doesn’t necessarily mean needles, if you know what I mean. I noticed lots of videos have themes of kids doing something like eating candy or doing something else bad and then getting sick and having to endure something painful to make them better. That’s totally a grooming thing.”
A completely legitimate question arises: How is this still up on YouTube?
Many of these disturbing videos have millions of views. Logically and judging by the comments, they have been reported and flagged hundreds, if not thousands of times. Yet, they are still up on YouTube. In fact, not only are they still on YouTube, they show up in the “related” section, autoplay if autoplay is on, and can even be accessed via the YouTube Kids mobile app.
Creators of these videos manipulate YouTube’s search engine, by throwing in random, sometimes seemingly innocent, keywords in video titles and the video description box. Not only does this help them rank higher in YouTube’s very own search engine, it also enables them to show up in the “related” section. This is why it is incredibly easy for a child to stumble upon them.
What does the future hold?
Without a shadow of a doubt, whatever the end goal of these YouTube channels and videos is, they are indeed traumatizing children all across the globe. They would traumatize an adult. In that sense, Elsagate is not a “conspiracy theory.” Orchestrated or not, contrived or spontaneous, Elsagate is an elaborate conspiracy against children.
This is why YouTube’s crackdown is welcome and encouraged. Until this content is wiped out and until people creating and spreading it are dealt with, perhaps it’s best to closely monitor your children’s internet activity. The world wide web is cruel and it can do a lot of damage to a child’s fragile mind.
[Featured Image by suriyachan/Shutterstock]