When children want to entertain themselves, they’ll usually fire up a video game console, smartphone or tablet. What most of these have in common is the ability to browse videos on YouTube, and certain ones are more likely to grab their attention. You might have noticed an increase in videos that feature popular children’s characters such as Spiderman or Elsa from the movie “Frozen”.
These videos were created, for the most part, to immediately catch the attention of younger viewers who might be tricked into thinking these are official works from the creators of these intellectual properties, and they’ve boomed in popularity. Receiving millions of views, videos that use these characters often get very dark and disturbing. Journalist Laura Jane knows what this is like after seeing seeing her child watch a video.
Jane’s child was watching what appeared to be a “Peppa Pig” cartoon, but instead it used the same animation and characters for its own dark plot. “Pepper does a lot of screaming and crying and the dentist is just a bit sadistic and it’s just way, way off what a three-year old should watch,” she said. “But the animation is like close enough to looking like Peppa – it’s crude but it’s close enough that my daughter was like, ‘This is Peppa Pig.’”
Even the videos that are more lighthearted in nature can be troubling due to the fact that copyrighted characters are being used without permission. The ones that parents should be concerned about are the ones that clearly have mature content, featuring characters in situations that wouldn’t even be allowed on late-night television in most cases.
Parents had become aware of these types of videos in growing numbers, but it wasn’t until some of the more well-known YouTubers started speaking out about it. With millions of subscribers, these YouTubers drew attention to the videos and how they were ruining YouTube as a whole. With that much attention, YouTube knew that they had to react, despite the videos getting billions of views across different channels and pulling in a lot of money.
YouTube launched the YouTube Kids app that was designed to help filter out a lot of the videos, but not all of them were caught by the filter. The website also announced that videos that “made inappropriate use of family friendly characters” would be demonetized, preventing the creators from making a profit from the videos.
“We’re in the process of implementing a new policy that age restricts this content in the YouTube main app when flagged,” Juniper Downs said. The YouTube Director of Policy added that “Age-restricted content is automatically not allowed in YouTube Kids.” Videos were still getting by the filters, however, including ones that showed children’s characters drinking bleach and performing sexual acts.
YouTube is adding more moderators to search for new and existing videos that might be considered too mature for a younger audience, blocking the videos from the YouTube Kids app. YouTube Kids Engineering Director Balaji Srinivasan said “Our systems work hard to filter out more mature content from the app, but no system is perfect. If you find a video that you think should not be in the app, you can block it and flag it for review.”
Some of the content that’s still allowed under the new policy is toy unboxing videos. In these videos, it’s often other children who are opening new toys and playing with them, including a five-year-old named Ryan that’s received nearly 10 million subscribers. He’s been able to pull in around $1 million per month in advertising revenue, and his parents have even quit their jobs to help make the channel a full-time success.
There are many more like Ryan on YouTube, and some are still making videos of familiar characters, going toward more family-friendly content to stay relevant. “These videos are incredibly replicable, anyone can do it, which is why it spread so wide and so fast,” Tubefilter co-founder Josh Cohen said. “It’s tapping into the same theme as the toys. The little kids are already familiar with these characters through consumerism. If they have been to a Walmart or worn diapers in their two or three short years of life, they probably see these characters every day.”
Experts suggest that parents monitor the content that their children are watching on YouTube, and flagging the videos that aren’t appropriate. This helps the website know which content should be banned from the YouTube Kids app, and which creators will face punishment for trying to take advantage of younger viewers. It’s also suggested that you set up an individual account on the app for each child that includes their age, as it provides different videos based on age.