So far, I’ve resisted the urge to breed. But I can sort of imagine what it’s like to be a parent—just like I can sort of imagine what it’s like to go to a Pitbull concert or to wear cargo shorts. I realize, of course, that parenting has got to be a tough row to hoe, and I sympathize with anyone who attempts it in today’s world. Based on my casual observation, the easiest way to raise kids is to give them an iPad, point them toward the YouTube Kids app and catch up with them again in 10 to 20 years. But now comes the unfortunate news that surrendering your parenting responsibilities and your children’s viewing choices to an anonymous internet database of fan-posted videos may not be the wisest idea.
The Google-owned YouTube is currently reeling from a number of scandals alleging that the video-streaming site has been posting inappropriate content aimed at children, that it’s flooded with obscene comments and that its autocomplete search results have an unfortunate bent toward pedophilia. This is a big deal as four of the top five channels on YouTube (accounting for about 1.5 billion views) are aimed at children. Starting on the more credible end of those accusations is the suggestion that YouTube has done a poor job of policing its kid-oriented videos. Practical jokers and people with questionable ethics have been cramming YouTube’s feeds full of inappropriate content for years. The problem is that YouTube relies on a mathematical algorithm to offer up “suggestions” for viewers. While discerning adults are free to ignore crummy suggestions (no, Netflix, I do not want to watch the new Adam Sandler movie!), kids are more likely to simply click on the “next” link, leading them to some strange places. YouTube seems less concerned with baffling children’s content—like, say, those crappy CGI videos from “KIDS Family” of Spider-Man riding dinosaurs and dancing to nursery rhymes. The company says it’s actively targeting “content featuring minors that may be endangering to a child, even if that was not the uploaders intent” and “content with family entertainment characters but containing mature themes or adult humor.” (No “Rick & Morty” for you, kid.)
On Nov. 22 YouTube posted an official blog pledging to crack down on “inappropriate videos” and raunchy comments on kiddy content. This comes in the wake of Candy giants Mars and Cadbury as well as Hewlett-Packard, Captain Morgan, The Wall Street Journal and Adidas announcing plans to remove advertising from YouTube over sexually explicit comments. Anyone who’s spent any time at all on the internet won’t be shocked by the idea that comments sections are inhabited by the scum of the Earth. Whether these YouTube comments are being left by actual pedophiles or garden variety jerks thinking they’re being funny is beside the point.
On the dumber end of YouTube’s troubles is the news that the autocomplete function on the site’s search engine led to some embarrassing wordplay. Typing, for example, “How to have” in the search engine resulted in the No. 1 suggestion “How to have s*x with your kids.” This (complete with silly asterisk) is more likely the result of trolls jamming the system than legitimate searches and has since been “fixed.” But it’s the cherry on a particularly unappetizing sundae.
If YouTube follows through on all its promises, rest assured your kid can get back to watching videos of people playing Minecraft and unboxing Disney toys until their eyes explode.