A concerned mother was shocked to find videos on YouTube Kids that gave children on how to kill themselves, as well as several other disturbing topics.
These days, the internet plays such a big role in our lives that we rely on it for everything from ordering groceries to finding our life partners. Moreover, the expansive array of entertainment it hosts makes it a perfect tool to keep our kids busy while we go about our day or take a breather. However, as anyone who's been on the global computer network would know, it also has a very dark side to it. While there are regulations in place to protect children from the perils of being exposed to harmful information, things do tend to slip through the cracks. One Florida mom was shocked to come across one such case on YouTube Kids recently where she found videos that gave children instructions on how to kill themselves.
Most parents consider YouTube Kids to be a child-friendly platform, which of course is what it is advertised as. However, according to CNN, some moms recently found some very disturbing videos on the video platform that proved it may not be safe for their children after all. One of these moms was Florida-based Free Hess who came across clips on both YouTube and YouTube Kids that gave kids detailed information on how to end their lives. Speaking to the media company, Hess revealed she'd first seen such a video back in July when another mom alerted her about it.
The said mom had been watching cartoons with her son on YouTube Kids when she saw the disturbing video. She was horrified when one of the cartoon videos transitioned mid-way into footage of a man in sunglasses telling children how to slit their wrists. A pediatrician herself, Hess jumped to action as soon as she was alerted of the incident. She reached out to different groups urging them to report the video in order to get it removed from the platform. However, she says it took YouTube Kids a week to pull it down. Yet, the threat was far from contained.
Hess came across the video again in February, this time on YouTube. Once again, it took YouTube a couple of days to take the video down after she and many others flagged it. Speaking to CNN, she said, "It makes me angry and sad and frustrated. 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." However, the video of the man in sunglasses isn't an isolated case. Upon exploring YouTube Kids in detail, she came across many other videos glorifying other such disturbing topics including, human trafficking, gun violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and domestic violence.
Hess has been writing about the concerning subject on her parenting blog PediMom.com. "In the last several days there has been a lot of talk about videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids that are inappropriate for our children. One of those videos, the cartoon with the suicide clip, was brought to light right here on PediMom.com. I wish I could say that they are isolated incidents but unfortunately I cannot. My research has led me into a horrifying world where people create cartoons glorifying dangerous topics and scenarios such self-harm, suicide, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and gun violence which includes a simulated school shooting," she wrote.
"All of these videos were found on YouTube Kids, a platform that advertises itself to be a safe place for children 8 years old and under," Hess added. One of the videos she came across was one inspired by the popular video game Minecraft depicting a school shooting. "There were just so many that I had to stop recording," she said. Hess wants the video platform to tighten its security and screening measures so as to keep children safe. While she understands that YouTube's parent company Google is a business and may not have the exact goals as her, she urges them to have a better response when such offensive videos are reported. "I want offensive things taken down immediately when reported," the concerned mother said.
According to CNN, YouTube responded to Hess' allegations with a statement that claimed the company works to make the videos on YouTube Kids family-friendly. "We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it possible for anyone to flag a video. Flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don't belong in the app are removed. We've also been investing in new controls for parents including the ability to hand pick videos and channels in the app. We are making constant improvements to our systems and recognize there's more work to do," the statement said.
Though Hess does accept that YouTube Kids is faster at pulling down flagged videos when compared to YouTube, she thinks such videos may have already caused harm by the time someone reports them. Hence, she urges parents to be more aware of the kind of content their children are consuming online. "There is this disconnect between what kids know about technology and what their parents know because the parents didn't grow up with it. The kids are the digital natives and the parents are digital immigrants. We need to fix this, and we all need to fix this together," Hess said.