What the Tech? What is YouTube Doing to Protect Children?
As YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok representatives met with Senators this week to answer tough questions about what the platforms are doing to protect kids, it’s a good time to look at changes YouTube has already made to its platform.
A little over 2 years ago it was discovered that pedophiles were using YouTube to watch videos of young children and even grooming them within the chat or comments section. YouTube search made it easy for them.
Here’s how those predators worked:
Searching YouTube for “birthday pool party” (as an example) would display thousands of videos recorded and uploaded by moms and dads of their children’s party. Those videos were shot and uploaded innocently by parents to share with their friends and family.
The way YouTube works is that when a user searches for video, YouTube populated the sidebar with similar videos. So when a pedophile watched one video of an 8-year-old girl in a swimming pool, they were able to see hundreds of other videos of 8-year-old girls in swimming pools.
Within the videos were comment sections where exploiters were known to reach out to the owners of the videos (and their children perhaps) as well as other commenters. In some incidents, exploiters managed to strike up conversations with children and then take those conversations to other platforms.
A Redditor investigated the rabbit holes on YouTube and discovered some of those chat or comment feeds included exploiters sharing social media accounts and information and in a few cases, links to child pornography.
The Redditor also found many comments on those videos where pedophiles left time-codes of moments when the child was in a compromising or suggestive pose.
Videos that would normally be viewed only by the extended family were getting millions of views. One such video of a little girl doing gymnastics flips while her dad gave instructions from behind the camera had over 6 million views and hundreds of comments.
Once the Redditor published his own video showing what he discovered, YouTube deleted thousands of videos of children. YouTube also removed the comments section on videos of children.
Another change by YouTube removed the random “similar videos” and replaced those with videos from trusted YouTube channels.
So YouTube took some aggressive steps to curb the use of its platform for nefarious purposes.
Similar incidents have taken place on other social media networks such as Instagram where pedophiles searched for hashtags such as #bathtime and #bikinihaul.
While members of Congress warned the tech giants of possible legislation, the fact is there is no conceivable way tech giants can make the internet safe for people of all ages. Human exploiters are tech-savvy and as they learn ways to get around safeguards in place, they share those with others doing the same thing.
Parents must take preventative actions to protect their children. Uploading videos of their kids to share with family members should always be uploaded as “private” which allows only people with the link to see the video.
Another option is to choose to upload the video as “unlisted” meaning it won’t show up as people browse similar videos and will not be searchable.