YouTube is the world's largest video sharing site, so it's no stranger to drama. Often, the turmoil is thanks to the incredible volume of content uploaded, which makes it infeasible to vet every video. YouTube has been called out in the past for hosting videos that portrayed cartoon characters in inappropriate ways, but the latest episode is somewhat creepier. YouTuber Matt Watson has revealed a bizarre and disturbing "wormhole" of pedophiles on the site.
As you're probably aware, YouTube uses opaque algorithms to determine what sort of videos show up in the recommendation bar. Watson uses a fresh YouTube account in the video below to demonstrate how easily you can get stuck in this vortex of creepy behavior. In just a few clicks, all the recommendations feature young girls.
Of course, there's no patently illegal content in these videos, but the comments are super-gross. Posters link to timestamps in the videos that show the girls in compromising positions out of context, and others just make sexual comments. The videos are often re-uploaded on new accounts and get huge numbers of views. It seems like the signal from these accounts is so strong that it reveals a major shortcoming of YouTube's algorithm.
A spokesperson has responded to the claims made in the video.
Any content – including comments – that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.
Some of the sketchy videos feature ads, and the advertisers associated with this behavior aren't pleased. So far, companies like Disney and Nestle have suspended their advertising on YouTube. Other partners have reportedly contacted YouTube to get an explanation on the down-low. I guess you can add this to the list of things YouTube has to fix. It usually takes action when advertisers get involved. So far, YouTube says it has disabled comments on millions of videos and terminated hundreds of channels.
TLDR: Disabled comments on tens of millions of videos. Terminated over 400 channels. Reported illegal comments to law enforcement. pic.twitter.com/zFHFfkX9FD
— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) February 21, 2019
YouTube making more changes
This controversy has lit a fire under YouTube as few things have. The site's Creators blog has an update on the steps taken so far, as well as more changes coming in the future. YouTube says it has removed millions of predatory comments and disabled the comments on those videos. In the next few months, YouTube will work to proactively disable comments on videos that feature young minors. Videos featuring older minors that "could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior" will also get automatic comment blocks. Some channels will be able to keep comments on videos featuring minors, but they will need to commit to aggressive moderation.
YouTube is also accelerating the rollout of a new comment classifier. This system will be more effective at identifying and removing predatory comments about minors. YouTube believes it will filter out twice as many inappropriate comments on the site. For anything that escapes the revamped AI, YouTube asks that the community continue flagging content as necessary.