A Still from a strange youtube video

Tech & Media

How to Avoid Those Weird, Inappropriate Videos on the YouTube Kids App

Nov 17, 2017

YouTube is an excellent resource for many things, like learning how to use a foam roller. It’s also great if you need your kids to settle down for a bit so, you know, they don’t accidentally bump into you while you’re throwing pasta into a pot of boiling water. But it's also just a great resource for kids, since it features plenty of sing-a-longs, cartoons and educational videos for a wide range of age groups. 

But, as you may have heard, at the moment, it has not been the greatest for filtering out some strange content to its kids app.

Recently, users have noticed some truly bizarre videos trickling into the kids app feed. These short animations feature kid-friendly words in their titles like “Nursery Rhymes”, “Paw Patrol”, “Disney” and “Education Learning Video”. They also include animations similar to trademarked cartoon characters, just slightly off. Here's a rendering of Spiderman after he's stolen someone's briefcase, followed by stealing someone else's motorcycle:

In short, some rogue animation studios have, in a sense, targeted their family-unfriendly content to families, so among every kid’s favourite “wheels on the bus” are now, potentially, videos of Paw Patrol pups ending their lives, or Elsa and Spiderman getting impregnated by The Joker and Ghostface from Scream.

Over the last 30 days, YouTube says less than 0.005 per cent of its videos were removed from its Kids app, which means 0.005 per cent of videos that ended up in the app were not appropriate for children. The company is unable to give a number to illustrate what that per centage means, but it’s not zero, which would of course be the most comforting number. And how these studios have managed to get eyeballs on their weird videos isn’t sophisticated either — it really just boils down to keywords you’d normally search.

In a video titled “Learn Colors With Colored Tires | Learning Colors Tires Fun Superheroes Cartoons Finger Family Song,” there is a sequence where Venom assaults Frozen’s Elsa with a croquet mallet. The more violent scenes are sandwiched in between educational breaks like counting, learning words or colours, so at first you might just think the animation and concept is a little weird. 

In a video called “Bubble Guppies Gil & Molly freeze swimming pool Funny Story! Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes”, the Bubble Guppies (a show that's actually about preschoolers with mermaid tails) are animated as horny teenagers, and one of the boys is so jealous of the attention another boy is getting that he kills him. So, yeah, these are probably not videos you want a young child seeing.

You may be wondering how this is happening. Not all of main app content makes its way to the kids app, because YouTube uses machine learning and algorithms to determine what ultimately ends up with your kids. That usually takes a few days, and clearly it is not 100 per cent effective. That is why the company has promised to evolve these practices to avoid this issue going forward. 

Juniper Downs, Director of Policy at YouTube stated, “Earlier this year, we updated our policies to make content featuring inappropriate use of family entertainment characters ineligible for monetization. We’re in the process of implementing a new policy that age restricts this content in the YouTube main app when flagged. Age-restricted content is automatically not allowed in YouTube Kids.”

This is important to know, because there is a window for how long it takes for main app content to get to the kids app, and that’s approximately three days. So, theoretically, if you're searching for kids content like "Peppa Pig" and you come across one of these bizarre videos on the main app (or even in the Kids app, if you're using it and viewing with your child), you can flag it to YouTube and someone will look at it.

So, here's what you can do now, while all the kinks are being worked out.

Don't panic

We all benefit from automation, it's true. And the idea of having something work well for so long suddenly not work as well can be startling, or defeating. It could even make you panic. But you don’t need to delete the YouTube Kids app. You can, but you don’t have to. It might feel like the easiest way to handle this situation, but there are steps you can take to prevent your children from seeing weird stuff they may be too young to understand (heck, most adults don't understand why Peppa Pig drinking bleach would ever be a thing). 

Understand the Tech 

Adult content in a kids app is a problem now, it's true. The content can be wildly offensive and upsetting. But YouTube's policies around this material have quickly adapted to your complaints, meaning age-restricted content won't even be considered for the YouTube Kids app going forward. And while this seems like a future initiative, the new policy is already active, and evolving.

Flag it

As Downs mentioned, flagging this content will lead to age-gating the content, which then demonitizes the video. Without revenue, the impulse to make these kinds of videos, and target them to children and families, is significantly reduced. You can flag on desktop, and on both mobile apps. While you're viewing any video, click the button with three dots (it's horizontal on desktop, vertical on mobile). 

From here, you can report or 'flag' the video, and select a reason that applies to what you're viewing. This is good news, because once the videos are automatically age-restricted, only users 18 and older will be able to see them. It might require additional work on your part, but flagging is very simple to do and takes a matter of seconds. And if you're concerned about what your children are watching, it's a good habit to get into.

Also, YouTube’s moderation team is global, and working on reviewing flagged content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means that when a video is flagged by a viewer on either on the main app (YouTube) or the kids app (YouTube Kids), a living person will watch that video and come to a resolution within 24 hours.

Turn off search in the app

Turning off search means your little one will be recommended a smaller fraction of videos, which are algorithmically selected. This just means that the pool of videos becomes smaller, and there's less of a likelihood that questionable videos will arise. You can turn off search while setting up a profile for the first time, or you can go into your settings by accessing parental controls, then clicking settings and switching the toggle off next to Search. 

Set up accurate profiles 

At startup, the app will ask you to set up profiles, using your childrens' birthdates. This acts as another layer of protection, so only age-appropriate videos will filter through based on their age. 

There are any number of other strategies you can employ — things like co-viewing every video or disabling the app until YouTube makes it work the way you want it to. But if you'd rather continue using the app, take come comfort in knowing that you have strategies you can use to make the experience better for you and your family. 

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