YouTube Kids releases videos promoting drug and gun culture to toddlers | Youtube

YouTube is streaming videos that promote skin bleaching, weight loss, drug culture and guns to kids as young as two, new survey finds “Kids” application of the company.

YouTube Kids, an app and website launched in 2015, is meant to be a safer and more organized version of the video-sharing website aimed at children under 13. It adapts the content to three age groups: “older”, “younger” and “preschoolers”. roughly corresponding to people aged nine to 12, four to seven and under four.

The company says it ensures videos on the service are family-friendly through “a mix of automated filters built by our engineering teams, human review and parent feedback to protect our youngest online users.” “. But, he warns users “no system is perfect and inappropriate videos can get through.”

Tech Transparency Project Research, a non-profit organization based in the United States, shows that the system is indeed far from perfect. Using three different accounts, each set to one of the app’s age groups, analysts discovered many videos that shouldn’t have passed Google’s filters.

A Breaking Bad-themed cooking show, for example, in which the hosts dress in respirators and crack jokes about the risk of inhaling the fumes, might be light-hearted viewing for adults or teens, but has been rated by YouTube as appropriate for “young children” – as did a Minecraft project to recreate the motorhome, “where the crystal meth is cooked”, from the hit show.

Songs sometimes also slip mature themes into the children’s app. Eric Clapton’s Cocaine – example lyric “When you’ve run out of feelings and you want to go on, cocaine” – is available for children as young as five years old as part of a series of lessons in guitar.

Content aimed at gun users slides through the net, allowing younger children to see a ranking of recoil pads, which protect shooters from the rebound of a shooting gun, and older children to receive step-by-step instructions on how to build a shelving unit. with a hidden compartment to conceal a pistol.

Most alarming was content for children that could lead to harmful body image issues. An article by a popular Indian beauty influencer on how to apply skin bleaching products was available for older children, while even preschoolers saw a cartoon on the importance to burn calories to lose weight, which urged them to “squirm”.

“YouTube Kids is aimed specifically at young children, even toddlers,” said Katie Paul, director of TTP. “This is a product that YouTube says does a lot of machine learning to filter out harmful content. It’s very specifically designed to be safe for kids, and we didn’t expect to find the variety of content inappropriate that we found.

“The most shocking thing, for me personally, was seeing a lot of the drug-related content,” she added. “Of course it’s not about selling drugs, but a show like Breaking Bad, which is definitely aimed at adults, is impersonated to sell rock candy like it’s ‘cooked meth’ using a lot of drug phrases.”

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We created YouTube Kids to create a safer environment for children to explore their interests and curiosity, while giving parents the tools to personalize the experience. of their children. We have a top bar why videos can be part of the app and also allow parents to control what content their child can and cannot see. After review, we have removed or age restricted a number of reported videos from the Kids app. »

Paul argued that the results showed “that algorithmically curated content should not be marketed to children. This is just another example of how even when a company says it’s doing its best to protect children towards curating that content, we still see harm spreading to some of the most vulnerable populations. more vulnerable”.

The UK and EU have led the way globally in regulating services such as YouTube Kids, Paul added, but she said the US Congress needed to do its part.

She said: “At the end of the day, we’re talking about American companies. And it’s the US Congress that should lead the way in crafting tougher regulations to ensure these companies don’t harm children.

Lance B. Holton