YouTube Kids alert! Drug culture and firearm content slip through cracks

YouTube Kids alert! Drug culture and firearm content slip through cracks

When YouTube Kids was established in 2015, the aim was to protect children under the age of 13 from inappropriate and harmful content. The app claims to provide age-appropriate content to three age groups: “older”, “younger” and “preschool”.

However, the latest research from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a US-based non-profit, now shows that children as young as two are being exposed to videos that promote skin bleaching, weight loss, drug culture and firearms.

The researchers at TTP set up three accounts, each set to one of the age groups on YouTube Kids.

According to The Guardian, it was discovered that a Breaking Bad-themed cooking show was promoting drug culture. Although the show may seem light-hearted for adults or teens, it posed a risk to toddlers. In the video, hosts dress up in respirators and make jokes about the risk of inhaling the fumes.

Another video promoting drug culture is Eric Clapton’s Cocaine.

“When your feeling is gone, and you wanna ride on, cocaine” are some of the sample lyrics that children as young as five are being taught as part of guitar lessons.

In another video that made it onto the app, an Indian content creator promotes skin bleaching and preschoolers were found to be consuming content about a cartoon character teaching them about weight loss — all of which can lead to harmful body image issues.

Creepy Huggy Wuggy bypasses YouTube Kids controls

Just last month, parents were warned of a character from the 2021 horror video game Poppy Playtime called Huggy Wuggy. Videos of this scary character were found to be bypassing YouTube’s parental controls and making it onto the “kid-friendly” app.

Similar to Facebook, the video streaming service relies on algorithms and auto-play to predict what viewers would like to see next.

The TTP researcher even found older children being offered step-by-step instructions on how to build a shelf with a hidden compartment to conceal a firearm.

 “This is a product that, YouTube claims, does a lot of machine learning to filter out harmful content. It’s very specifically meant to be safe for children, and we didn’t expect to find the variety of inappropriate content that we did find,” TTP director Katie Paul said.

YOUTUBE SAYS IT HAS REMOVED FLAGGED VIDEOS

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said that they have reviewed and removed a number of the flagged videos from the children’s app.

“We built YouTube Kids to create a safer environment for kids to explore their interests and curiosity, while giving parents the tools to customise the experience for their kids. We have a higher bar for which videos can be a part of the app and also empower parents to control what content their child can and cannot see. Upon review we have removed or age-gated a number of the flagged videos from the kids app.”

Stop algorithmically curated content

However, Paul feels that this is not enough, emphasising that algorithmically curated content should not be marketed at all for kids.

She further stated that because YouTube is an American company, it is the US Congress that should be leading the way in developing stronger regulations to ensure that these companies are not causing harm to children.

»YouTube Kids alert! Drug culture and firearm content slip through cracks«

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