YouTube is trying to crack down on child exploitation videos on its website.
In a blog post that went live Wednesday afternoon, the video-sharing site announced five ways it was strengthening guidelines to stop perverse videos that are trying “to pass as family-friendly.”
The update to the rules have come after months of speculation on videos aimed at kids that show questionable content – for example one that featured a character similar to Peppa pig, whose teeth are pulled out at the dentist as crying is heard.
It also comes after BuzzFeed reported on other live action videos that show kids in precarious situations – for example one where a child is taped to a wall, or being pushed into a washing machine.
Other videos include young girls wearing revealing clothing; The Times noted that before it was taken down, a video of a girl wearing a nightgown had 6.5 million views.
Not all the videos under scrutiny that contain possible child exploitation are aimed at children. Some have pre-roll advertisements for brands such as Michael Kors, suggesting the targeting of an older audience; many videos had user comments that were pedophilic in nature.
Since then, companies like Cadbury chocolates maker Mondelez, Adidas, and Smirnoff Vodka have pulled their advertising dollars from the site – and in some cases from YouTube’s parent company Google.
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In response, a YouTube spokesman said: “There shouldn’t be any ads running on this content and we are working urgently to fix this.”
As part of the new drive to crack down on this type of content, YouTube has instituted a “tougher” approach to its community guidelines and has removed over 50 channels and thousands of videos, including the ones featured in news articles.
But the YouTube issue is only part of a larger problem, Lianna McDonald of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection explained.
She said that while the actions in the videos aren’t explicitly illegal, they’re still degrading and demeaning.
“If you saw someone mistreat a child in the offline world whether they were neglectful or abusive or demeaning then we would be having people hopefully, you know, following up to check in on the child,” she explained.
“But in [these] examples we’re providing that that whole equation is absent.”
She says she gets about 4,000 tips a month on issues of child exploitation online, but those reports are likely tied to “the worst of the worst” situations, and doesn’t include some of the grey areas like the videos described above.
“In the worst case scenario, it’s the normalization of this type of behavior,” McDonald said. “In the sense that, for those who’ve got this problematic sort of view of children… be misinterpreted as OK.”
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Should it really all fall on YouTube to police these types of videos?
“What we’re seeing is these companies that are providing services making the rules and [regulations] about how this is going to be managed,” McDonald explained.
But she thinks government needs to play a larger role.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is working with federal and provincial governments on issues like this.
“We need to be coming at this from a far more strict child protection scheme,” McDonald explained.
“We need to embrace and bring on industry to help and get them engaged, work with them. So certainly Google and YouTube policy changes are important.”
She also called this a wake-up call for Canadians.
“Police need the proper resources. Child welfare needs to be brought into the equation. And perhaps most importantly and forgotten from the conversation is Canadian parents and Canadians need to again have a voice in the discussion about what are the impacts for society.”
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