It’s a modern day horror story. Disturbing and graphic content is being cut into videos on YouTube and even the family-friendly version of the platform, YouTube Kids. Things like suicide tips and instructions for self-harm are being uncovered in seemingly ordinary content directed at children, such as cartoons and video game videos.
Emergency room pediatrician Dr. Free N. Hess discovered a video sequence approximately 5 minutes into a cartoon video on the YouTube Kids App of a man telling kids how to slit their wrists. Hess reported the content to YouTube; however, there have been countless other videos featuring harmful content, prompting Hess to issue a warning on her blog PediMom.
Additionally, police in the U.K. have issued a warning about the “Momo Challenge,” where messages are hidden in what appear to be child friendly games and videos that direct the viewer to contact “Momo” on other social media platforms such as Snapchat or WhatsApp. The avatar for this disturbing character is an elongated face with dark hair and large eyes. It’s creepy to say the least; however, to a child it would likely appear as downright terrifying. Once contacted, “Momo” reportedly gives instructions for self-harm and makes disturbing threats about what will happen if the viewer reports their interactions to an adult.
Aside from these widely publicized recent cases, there are many more videos of popular children’s characters turning into monsters, in frightening scenarios, or just otherwise being featured in videos that are not appropriate for children. Despite YouTube having a filtering process, the platform itself has been plagued with complaints about inappropriate material as its current moderation process simply isn’t enough for the estimated 400 hours of content that are uploaded every minute. YouTube Kids, the version of the platform that is supposed to be child friendly, simply isn’t living up to its promise of being a safe place for accessing kids’ programming.
Since screen time itself can be such a divisive topic, the news of these breaches in safety have become viral news on social media. It’s almost like an episode of Black Mirror, the Netflix program that shows us the dark underbelly of modern technology.
Regardless of your personal views toward screen time, this is a huge problem because access to technology in the modern world is not fully dependent on the rules you keep in your own home. The existence of videos like this exposing children to frightening and harmful content is a problem for society as a whole.
Whether or not you are monitoring and supervising your child’s own individual use, the fact that a massive platform such as YouTube’s content filters and moderation processes simply aren’t cutting it in terms of safety is a problem that ultimately affects us all.