back to article Better filters won't cure this: YouTube's kids nightmare

For the "smartest guys in the room", Google often seems to be the last to know what’s going on in its own front room. And something very strange indeed is going on over at YouTube. The artist James Bridle – who created the witty "self-driving car trap" (spoiler: it's a chalk circle) – has been investigating the outer reaches …

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  1. Paul Woodhouse

    Never watched Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner as a kid?...

    1. Solarflare

      If you've ever had the displeasure of seeing some of this stuff, it's a bit different. Loony Tunes was very slapstick. This stuff is just...bizzare. My youngest nephew likes watching videos about cars. Starts off as the disney film stuff and then related videos and autoplays gets it towards this sort of stuff. It's mass produced rubbish at best but is a massive moneymaker for YouTube and the creators of the (really really weird) tat.

      The channels that do this seem to be hidden, you don't see them in the 'top all time' lists, but many of them have billions of views. And they have ads, those ads get watched because the children are just watching and can't (or don't) skip...so it makes a huge amount of money.

      It's weird and distrubing in a multitude of ways.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Never watched Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner as a kid?...

      You've missed the point. And 'Tom and Jerry' won seven Oscars.

      1. Jim 59

        Tom and Jerry won seven Oscars? Excellent. Fully deserved. It remains the funniest thing to hit the screen ever, anywhere.

        4 for Tom and 3 for Jerry ?

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Tom & Jerry

          Like it as a 'wee nipper'...

          But as I got older, it was to Daffy or Bugs as Swap Shop was to Tiswas or Mighty Mouse to Danger Mouse.

          Less said about Tom & Jerry Kids the better....

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Never watched Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner..."

      Not the Roadrunner. I could never catch that damn roadrunner.

      Everyday I'd hear "Beep Beep" from the TV. But everytime I'd run into the living room to catch it, I'd have an unlikely collision with the couch, roof, boulder ... even an anvil one time (I'm not even a blacksmith!).

  2. ratfox Silver badge

    I really wonder why these videos have to be so weird. I mean, that videos for children don't need to be high quality and can be churned out at low cost, fine. But why do they need to be disturbing?

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      "But why do they need to be disturbing?"

      Apparently "disturbing" is a minima.

    2. S4qFBxkFFg

      "low cost" is relative. Obviously the production is a bit shonky, but many of them have ~4 professional (professional in a very technical sense) actors, apparently decent lighting/camera, and shooting locations in the USA. (Interestingly, all expense appears to have been spared on the sound.)

      It's something that would be a rounding error in film/TV, but more than what one person of average wealth could arrange as a side project.

      I'd be very interested in an in-depth interview with the people involved.

      1. Chris 3

        From what I can tell, you hire that lot for 3 hours and then churn out 60 x 2 minute video using the same actors, costumes and sets. Boom, job done.

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Back in the '70s in NZ we got cheap Czech and Polish cartoons, undubbed. Ren and Stimpy reminded me of them in terms of pictorial style. Not understanding either Czecheslovak or Polish they were mildly disturbing. They must be, they have stuck in my mind all this time. Must have been why I liked Ren and Stimpy which my kids watched. I like Pinky and the Brain too, I did fiendish experiments on mice professionally.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        70's disturbing TV

        I somehow doubt any of these alleged disturbing videos could be more disturbing than 1970's RTE output aimed at children...

        Then there's UK TV Fingermouse....

        1. cyberdemon
          Devil

          Re: 70's disturbing TV

          I wasn't around in the 70s but i found The Moomins pretty disturbing in the 90s!

          1. cyberdemon
            WTF?

            Re: 70's disturbing TV

            Ok, after having watched some of the videos referenced by TFA (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlNKi5etxhk), this is a lot weirder than the Moomins!

          2. Teknogrot

            Re: 70's disturbing TV

            In the Night Garden was genuinely disturbing the first time I randomly saw it on TV at some odd hour due to new digital TV schedules deciding that CBeebies needed to be on after midnight.

        2. Desgrippes

          Re: 70's disturbing TV

          Here comes The Wagon.....

    4. veti Silver badge

      It's not that they have to be weird, just that there's nothing stopping them from being weird.

      The article explains this pretty well. First, assume that the production is automated. (There are quite a lot of indicators that this is the case.) Then, remember that trolls are a thing, and some get popular.

      Now, your automated algorithm is set to work out "what's popular" and "how to get onto the most popular 'videos like this' lists". When an intentionally produced troll video gets enough views, it becomes as a valid input to the algorithm. And to get onto the lists, it dresses itself up as a kids' video - and the damage is done, without any malicious human intervention at all.

  3. ntevanza

    Revenge of the machines

    Our experience has been that you can't let kids watch online video unattended. The algo will just keep choosing new shit to watch, which gets shitter as the chain of association gets longer. And little kids will watch anything.

    Later on in the growing up process, a not inconsiderable problem is an education system that is neither equipped nor designed to teach critical thinking. If you watch random YouTube, then you are probably neither designed nor equipped to teach this to your kids, either.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Revenge of the machines

      And the problem is restricted to children ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Incoming sweary rant, look away kids if offended. That seems kind of appropriate.

    This really fucks me off, I have two young children 4 and 6. They used to watch you tube until I noticed them watching some prick teenager getting all arsey about spiderman and generally being pricks to each other. Sure, you can say I'm not a good parent for allowing them access to the you tube kids app but it's supposed to be for kids and previously I wasn't aware of all the really nasty shit that's out there. It gets a lot worse than gobby teenagers.

    Here is where it gets even more fun, the you tube itself app is installed on most tablets and you can't remove it, sure, feel free to disable it but if you have kids like mine they just re-enable it even though I've never let them see me disable it. I know, lets go one up and install an app lock, sure I'm getting smug now thinking, "get round that you smart arses", what happens next? Oh they just boot the tablet into safe mode. Arghhhhhh!

    I'm not the sort of person to give up so I think, what's the best way to stop it? So I have pi-hole installed for ads and I add the following (posted here for reference for others)

    youtube.com

    www.youtube.com

    m.youtube.com

    ytimg.com

    s.ytimg.com

    ytimg.l.google.com

    youtube.l.google.com

    i.google.com

    googlevideo.com

    youtu.be

    No more you tube and unless they learn about proxies and vpn's they aren't getting on it.

    To counter the lack of video content I have an emby server with lots of films and tv shows that are appropriate for their ages.

    If our government actually gave a shit about the children it's supposed to be protecting by shitting on all my privacy then it would force google to sort its shit out.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "then it would force google to sort its shit out."

      Our government is unable to sort the least of its own shit out. It is hardly going to start on Google.

      This lot is so incompetent that I think if Johnson accidentally declares war on Syria, as he might easily do, six months down the line the UK will have a President Assad.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If our government actually gave a shit about the children it's supposed to be protecting by shitting on all my privacy then it would force google to sort its shit out.

      Government generally can't sort it's own affairs out, without asking it to decide fitness of non-illegal content. Moreover, government is a machine. Although nominally democratic, we all know that's very approximate, but more importantly in this context, government don't talk to, or listen to ordinary people. They are far too busy and important for that. So what they do listen to and react to is two malign forces - the press, particularly populist publications, and lobbyists, particularly well funded ones.

      So on the one hand (in the UK) you'll have the Daily Mail screaming about kids seeing p0rn, leading to the stupid reactions and daft ideas from the Home Office, and on the other hand you've got face to face contacts between officials and politicians and Google's and other tech's well oiled lobbying machines, all purring that no regulation is good regulation. So we have daft restrictions that won't work to protect kids from adult content, and will create additional stupid outcomes (like insisting adult sites use credit cards to validate age, and then keep records of that), but government believe the job is done.

      1. graeme leggett

        "you'll have the Daily Mail screaming about kids seeing p0rn"

        Meaning the mailonline website right hand sidebar ? "all grown up" "flaunts curves" "...stuns in a bikini..." "beach body.." "plunging dress" etc etc

        1. Jim 59

          "you'll have the Daily Mail screaming about kids seeing p0rn"

          Meaning the mailonline website right hand sidebar ? "all grown up" "flaunts curves" "...stuns in a bikini..." "beach body.." "plunging dress" etc etc

          Yes the Mail's juxstaposition is bazarre and rather tasteless. But the "beach body, plunging dress" etc, are all items you can see in public, unlike the pr0n.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "unlike the pr0n"

            Spend long enough on the mailonline sidebar and you'll get a "[celebs name] sex tape leaked on internet" type story.

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      YouTube Kids actually got a pat on the back from the government, mentioned in the same breath as iPlayer Kids. It's at that point you do think that nothing's ever going to get done and you consider sending YouTube to the great /dev/null in the sky.

      At the moment I'm using every opportunity to get the fact that the Internet and especially YouTube are not reliable into mine because banning isn't a viable long-term solution. Yeah, thanks school for teaching eight year olds to how to type search requests into Google and YouTube. There's no "warning: anything could be disturbing or a pack of lies", not even "other search engines are available", just "here's how to drink kool-aid from the fountain of Google".

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "Yeah, thanks school for teaching eight year olds to how to type search requests into Google"

        Actually, teachers get money and other free stuff from Google to ensure that... it's probably time to stop it - not only Google, obviously - especially because we are no longer talking about products only - but information and thereby what people becomes trained to think.

    4. Allonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      This gets my Comment of The Week vote. It's only Wednesday, but nothing's going to top it for sheer bang-onitude.

    5. Jim 59

      incoming sweary rant, look away kids if offended.. pihole...emby...

      Blimey, AC, well done. But not all parents are so expert, and YouTube should sort this out. They can start by switching off the ludicrous "autoplay" (and stop it from defaulting to "on" all the time). An obvious cach grab by those who used to say "Don't be evil", but no feature is more likely to show your kids awful stuff or blow your download limits.

      YT could even censor kids stuff themselves. Actually watch and moderate every children's video. Publishing would be slowed but even a small team could build up a lot of content over time.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I didn't use PI, I just went in ADB and set all of those to resolve to 127.0.0.1 in the Host file.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Boffin

        I didn't use PI, I just went in ADB and set all of those to resolve to 127.0.0.1 in the Host file.

        Works until they learn about bootable USB sticks, or borrow their mates phone etc. At least with Pihole (or other) you can easily block both badverts and anything else you wish to never have appear on your network again.

        At least until the kids learn what the "Doesn't need service"1 settings are for.....

        (where possible, BIOS and system settings passwords are helpful - and if you can route several popular addresses like the for 8's one to an alternative IP (eg parentally monitored server) at the gateway level you can at least stop or slow some of their attempts. Only some mind, and as a bonus you become really adept at playing whack-a-mole..)

        1Ref BOFH.

    7. d3vy

      Completely agree, my kids are a bit older and have been watching skate/BMX videos..

      Then some dick (Ryan Taylor) pops up on autoplay, seems ok to start.. then he's off to toys r us to "review" a BMX they are selling.. ok seems fine.

      The proceeds to buy, completely ruin and return the bike to toys r us for a refund claiming it as defective.

      Next video he's riding full pelt through a shopping centre full of people.

      The kids have been banned from watching him or similar videos.

      They are old enough to know that I can and do monitor what they access online so we have a bit of an honour system.. if they want to retain access to their phones, laptops and tablets they keep the content suitable..

    8. Tim Seventh

      " I have two young children 4 and 6... kids like mine they just re-enable it even though I've never let them see me disable it. I know, lets go one up and install an app lock, sure I'm getting smug now thinking, "get round that you smart arses", what happens next? Oh they just boot the tablet into safe mode."

      4 and 6 years old yet they can do that without being taught? Give them a computer quick! They will surely become the next technology founders very soon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Tim Seventh

        I certainly intend to, just waiting for the right moment in their development (attention spans and interest)

        Oh and they are both girls who have been told from an early age that nothing is just a boy or a girl thing.

        Little sods also had it fired up in the browser and as such I can't leave my computer unlocked. Not complaining though.

  5. Wibble

    Is YouTube a publisher?

    If they were they'd be responsible for their content.

    Given that some content's been viewed more times than all episodes of "TellyTubbies" / whatever, maybe they are publishers?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is YouTube a publisher?

      No, it uses that content provider loophole.

  6. K Silver badge

    Wow..

    Reading the linked article is 15 minutes of my life I'll never get back!

    He does raise a few good point, but I think he'd be better off selecting the relevant videos, then taking the producers to task.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Wow..

      The last few videos in the Medium article show some stuff which a bit weird, but there's still plenty of rabbit hole to go down. Just search for "Investigating YouTube - #Elsagate" or "Something strange is happening on Youtube #ElsaGate", appropriately on YouTube.

      Preferably in a private browser window not at work. Those are just two videos which talk about what kind of sketchy stuff can be found but it's enough to screw up your YouTube recommendations, which is probably why the article wasn't just a page full of videos.

      Then arrange for the YouTube and YouTube Kids apps to 'break' or 'go away' on home devices.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Wow..

      You can't "take the producers to task". In the first case, you can't find the buggers - if you try to email them, it's vanishingly unlikely your email will be read by a human. In the second place, the producers (in so far as there are humans behind the whole thing) are mostly unaware of what's going on. Most of this stuff is algorithmically generated, not creative.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or parents could -and this is a radical concept - actually supervise their kids? The Internet is not your free babysitter.

    1. DF118

      Presumably you're one of those "guns don't kill people" people.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "Presumably you're one of those "guns don't kill people" people."

        If I smacked you over the head with a shovel and killed you should we ban shovels?

        (I picked shovel as I've just started playing Battlefield One (yes I know it's been out ages). It could be any choice of implement of course).

        1. LDS Silver badge

          It's quite hard to kill in a few minutes 28 or 59 person with a shovel, and people around have far better chances to stop you, especially because you need to be very close.

          It also require much more strength, and determination. Or even with a knife (and I will ban carrying knives around anyway, really no need today).

          Moreover shovels are usually far more useful than guns, and less comfortable to carry around.

          1. Martin Summers Silver badge

            @LDS

            I can still kill you with a shovel, does it matter how long it takes? So what's your point really?

            It really is people who kill people, it doesn't matter what they use to do it.

            1. Patrick R
              Mushroom

              Re: @LDS It really is people who kill people, it doesn't matter what they use to do it.

              So why should anybody make a fuss about Kim Jong Un getting nukes?

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: @LDS It really is people who kill people, it doesn't matter what they use to do it.

                Because he's increasingly looking like a cornered mouse. And you know what they say about cornered mice as well as people with nothing left to lose...

          2. Anonymous Noel Coward
            Trollface

            Try digging a hole for the body with a gun...

            1. hplasm Silver badge
              Happy

              "Try digging a hole for the body with a gun..."

              Maxim 44: If it will blow a hole in the ground, it will double as an entrenching tool.

              In other words: Your gun is too small.

              1. Khaptain Silver badge

                Re: "Try digging a hole for the body with a gun..."

                "It's quite hard to kill in a few minutes 28 or 59 person with a shovel, and people around have far better chances to stop you, especially because you need to be very close."

                Now if that shovel is attached to a large piece of Yellow Caterpillared Machinery, my shovel could do a lot of damage and on top of that is could provide me with protection.. The SWAT team are going to have a hard time taking me out.....

                Alternatively there have been several recent cases involving vehicles causing max damage in very little time...

                Guns are a means not a cause..

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: "Try digging a hole for the body with a gun..."

                  Lots of people have tried to cause "max damage" with a vehicle, but most of them have failed dismally.

                  Look at those jokers in Borough Market, London, for instance. Three guys in a van, striking a crowded and vulnerable area at night, managed to kill - seven. Viewed coldly as return on investment, that's - well, it's an utter failure. It's beyond pathetic.

                  Christmas Market attack in Berlin - 12 dead. Westminster - 4 dead. London Bridge attack - 8 dead. Finsbury Park - 8 injured, no dead. Dijon - 13 injured, no dead. Barcelona - a total of six terrorists manage to kill six civilians. Jerusalem - 4 dead. The only really spectacular success was Marseilles, and that looks increasingly like a fluke as more and more people try (and fail) to emulate it.

                  Compare with: Orlando - 49 dead. Sutherland Springs - 27 dead. Las Vegas - 59. And that's just in the last 2 years.

                  So yeah, the weapon does make a difference. If you disagree, please cite the number of people killed by mass rampagers with shovels in the last couple of years.

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