YouTube needs better child-proof systems

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

It’s almost impossible to not to sound like a grandparent looking back on a their long and happy life when you start a sentence with, “Kids these days,” … but nevertheless…

Kids these days love YouTube. Although a majority of Baylor students don’t actually have a child, most can say that they have a younger sibling, niece, nephew or neighbor, and many of those sweet little kiddos spend hours a day watching videos on a tablet, iPod touch or smartphone. YouTube needs better child-proof systems in place for parents. This was evidenced early last week by the discovery of disturbing videos on the YouTube Kids app containing instructions on how to commit suicide inserted into clips from the Nintendo video game Splatoon, as reported by the Washington Post.

The fact that children have these devices at such a young age is a whole other editorial, but statistics from the Omnicore Agency report YouTube watchers consume an average of 150 million hours of videos every day, and while children are hard to survey, kid-friendly videos make up a decent portion of this number.

Similarly, New York Magazine published an article in November 2018 that reported 81 percent of parents allow their children ages 11 and under to watch YouTube.Those numbers suggest that most kids are present and active on YouTube.

According to the Washington Post, a mother and pediatrician from Florida came across a video on the Youtube Kids app that suddenly cut to a man –– who was unrelated to the original video –– giving watchers instructions on how to commit suicide.

“Remember, kids,” the man says in the video, providing complementary actions using an imaginary blade. “Sideways for attention. Longways for results.”

The Washington Post received a statement from Andrea Faville, a spokeswoman for YouTube, saying that the company works to ensure the platform is “not used to encourage dangerous behavior and we have strict policies that prohibit videos which promote self-harm.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened, as YouTube has struggled for years to keep the website free for expression while still being sensitive to young eyes. Stories of violent cartoons or terrifying subjects for children being discussed in videos come up all the time, and this is only the most recent offense.

The YouTube Kids app is described in the App Store as “a safer online experience for kids,” offering parents the opportunity to handpick videos, channels and even collections of channels for their child to enjoy. These features sound promising, but when seemingly approved videos still contain scary faces or chilling instructions, changes must be made.

Although this app allows parents to select which videos they do or don’t want their kids watching, a majority of parents would argue that they do not have the time to watch every single second of content before their child does. Therefore, if YouTube wants to take action, they should put a process in place to approve the channels and videos that appear on Youtube Kids from the corporate end.

The company has been incredibly transparent with its attempts to remove flagged content for a variety of reasons, publishing its progress in a quarterly report via Google, its parent company. However, for the children who have watched these disturbing videos, there is no going back. Their memories cannot be wiped, their eyes cannot unsee what they have seen, even though the videos they watched were supposedly safe for their consumption.

While Youtube should step up and start monitoring its kid-friendly videos, parents should also take this incident as an opportunity to open up conversations with their children about what they see in these videos. Even if a child is just 6 or 7-years-old, talking through something like suicide or violence with a trusted adult can be the difference between moving past the video or being weighed down by its content.

Again, while the fact that children have these devices could be addressed in another editorial, there is also something to be said about having a shared desktop computer or laptop in a family space, instead of a portable individual device that a child can take anywhere.

This editorial is not encouraging censorship, but rather, suggesting that selecting kid-friendly content is completely different than limiting one’s freedom of speech.

YouTube should keep this in mind when examining its child-proofing methods, and spend more time approving videos for young children. Even including a simple checkmark or icon next to a channel to let parents know the videos have been pre-screened could be the difference in a child learning to make slime and a child learning to self-harm.