This is why we can’t have nice things
November 4, 2017 11:35 PM   Subscribe

The internet will inevitably steal the soul of every child at some point as he or she grows up, but some are speeding the process along by manipulating YouTube's powerful algorithm. […] Take for example the video embedded below that showed up on both YouTube and the Kids app: You press play and at first your screen fills with recognizable cartoon characters and cheesy music — but things take a drastic turn when Elsa and Spider-Man arm themselves with automatic weapons.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (82 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Like the A-Team but with better aim!

Seriously though, how the fuck does this end up getting 5 million views? Hasn't someone at Disney sent 12 cease and desist letters by now? Don't these kids have parents? Who makes this content and why? Are they extremists or teenagers? Why does Spiderman not wear a cup? Why is mashable the only one "reporting" on this and why is this article so terrible and what has happened to journalism?

I am left with so many questions after reading this.
posted by fshgrl at 11:46 PM on November 4, 2017 [20 favorites]


According to the third-party ratings tracker Social Blade, the Battle VS Death Battle channel may bring in anywhere from $92,000 to $1.5 million annually from ads.

That struck me as an odd paragraph in an otherwise interesting article: why quote a figure when that figure amounts to “some money, but we don’t know how much”?
posted by frimble at 11:47 PM on November 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


Don't these kids have parents?

My three-year-old accidentally watched one of these because my mother-in-law was babysitting, put some video on the iPad for him to watch, and then promptly fell asleep. I only found out because I was working in another room and I took my headphones off and heard screaming and machine gun fire.

As a parent of a young child, believe me, it is extremely easy to fall down the wrong rabbit hole on Youtube.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 12:41 AM on November 5, 2017 [40 favorites]


As a parent of a young child, believe me, it is extremely easy to fall down the wrong rabbit hole on Youtube.

Oh, I know., I'm just surprised angry letters haven't been sent to Disney by the hundreds.
posted by fshgrl at 1:02 AM on November 5, 2017


Gra!

As much as I appreciate pranks and culture jamming, THAT is completely unacceptable. This is why we can't have nice things indeed. And, worse yet, the carryover effect. If everyone is worried about tripping over inappropriate content, then they risk good content that might look questionable until actually watched.
posted by Samizdata at 1:21 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


The 5 million views could partly come from view increasers - in fact, these shady freaks would be dumb not to pull that trick.

But since I preview every video that plays for the children, the thing that worries me most is the heavy monetization of kids' YT vids. If let unreined the app would shower viewers with more ads than TV, which many parents might not even be aware of - we used to play the children a particular 1hour video of songs (a DVD posted to YT by the original author). It ran a few times before I actually listened to it and realized YT slid in like 3 ads.
posted by Laotic at 1:29 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Correction: This is why we can't count on Google for nice things. (They said "don't be evil"; never mentioned anything about nice)
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:31 AM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


What makes this interesting to me is that the videos aren't really notably worse than a lot of "normal" media many parents would allow their children to see without much thought since its socially approved, made by major corporations, and has a recognizable narrative form parents are familiar and comfortable with. These videos feel worse for lacking that accepted sense of coherency people expect due to its mix and match messing around of concepts. For kids that don't know any better, I'm not sure they're any worse than many insanely popular movies, tv shows, and video games either shown to kids or which they might see others in the household watching.

None of that is to suggest it doesn't pose a real problem for parents who do want to be able to control what their children see of course, and isn't meant as a criticism of anyone since reactions and values will obviously vary.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:44 AM on November 5, 2017 [10 favorites]


Who makes this content and why?

It's the why that makes zero sense - if making a kid-friendly video and slathering it with kid-friendly tags brings you views and add money, what's the motivation for adding the creepy content? A desire to be eventually kicked off youtube and lose your revenue?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:01 AM on November 5, 2017 [7 favorites]


"the Battle VS Death Battle channel may bring in anywhere from $92,000 to $1.5 million annually from ads"...why quote a figure when that figure amounts to “some money, but we don’t know how much”?

YouTube 's formula for paying content creators is famously opaque, but it's news to me that estimates may vary by more than an order of magnitude.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:44 AM on November 5, 2017


The video feels like some weird psyops experiment to program kids for activation in later life.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:56 AM on November 5, 2017 [19 favorites]


Or, rather, an algorithm/three ring binder approach to viral kids videos by a IP thief from another country with a limited grasp of Western culture.
posted by Samizdata at 2:13 AM on November 5, 2017 [12 favorites]


A quick search for the word "gun" on the Kids app showed this tutorial on how to build a real coil gun.
Yes, think of the children breaking out their arc welders and other shop tools to build this terrible device, which can fling an intricately fashioned bullet with slightly more power than an eight year's arm...
posted by Coventry at 2:26 AM on November 5, 2017 [17 favorites]


> the channel Battle VS Death Battle

If only YouTube's content algorithms had some way of prescreening content suitable for children. But I guess it's difficult.
posted by ardgedee at 2:50 AM on November 5, 2017 [9 favorites]


why is this article so terrible and what has happened to journalism?

First they came for the journalists...
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:16 AM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


If you'll excuse me harrumphing about violent media in general for a minute, I half-watched "John Wick" on cable last night....it seemed like the only time people weren't shooting at each other was when there was a scene of graphic torture or beating. Action movies that are nothing but gunfights are boring. And they probably aren't aren't that good for us. The gun violence problem is only in part a problem of too many guns; it's also too many people who thing that shooting people is awesome.
posted by thelonius at 4:23 AM on November 5, 2017 [9 favorites]


Public service announcement for new parents: PBS Kids makes a video app. It is outstanding for sticking young kids in front of when you are out of childcare evens. The biggest risk is fucking Thomas.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:38 AM on November 5, 2017 [34 favorites]


If there are no ads interspersed through it, why is it a half hour long? Labour of love? Some hole in the wall studio trying to demonstrate that they have the production capacity to take on some game animation work?
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:39 AM on November 5, 2017


The biggest risk is fucking Thomas.

rule 34
posted by thelonius at 4:43 AM on November 5, 2017 [62 favorites]


When you have kids you realize how fucked up it is that adults make a bunch of inappropriate fan content based on kids’ stuff. Kids stuff is for kids. There’s no cultural value in making videos of spongebob horribly dying or whatever. It’s briefly funny like a fart joke but we can all do without it.
posted by freecellwizard at 5:01 AM on November 5, 2017 [7 favorites]


I find it depressing and disturbing that kids now have to be tricked into watching violent content.
posted by biffa at 5:05 AM on November 5, 2017 [15 favorites]


~Who makes this content and why?
~It's the why that makes zero sense - if making a kid-friendly video and slathering it with kid-friendly tags brings you views and add money, what's the motivation for adding the creepy content?


Like everything else like this garbage on the internet. For the LULZ.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:28 AM on November 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


The biggest risk is fucking Thomas.

PBS standards have really slid if they let Fucking Thomas on their app. That show is seriously inappropriate for children.
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:29 AM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


“"Yeah, I've totally stopped letting my toddler watch YT or YT Kids because there are too many creepy videos," one parent wrote on Reddit, in reference to the channel Toy Freaks, a bizarre channel that boasts 8.1 million subscribers.

“"I download the YouTube videos I've prescreened for mine to watch, unless I can sit and watch with her," another wrote.”

Mission goddam accomplished. YouTube's alogorithm sucks at suggesting content, so why would you trust parenting to it?
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:45 AM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


I aggressively use the block function on youtube kids. It's a failure at all levels. Have you ever had to block a video on it? You (the adult) have to enter a 4 digit number -- while your child is screaming and wanting to touch the screen. There is no external way of blocking videos or keywords using the account the device is signed into. If I could log into google and manage the blocking that would help. There is no way to unblock either, afaik.

Then there's that terrible search. You child will quickly figure out the microphone icon. Then your child's babbling will be guessed at by google, and things like 'gun'. Or your child may be trying to say "happy and you know it" and google will think your child wants "annoying" videos. Trust me, if you are any sort of parent that cares, you are going to get annoying videos.
posted by Catblack at 5:56 AM on November 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is likely the same people responsible for this Halloween weirdness.

It's just someone at a content farm with a cheap graphics engine, stolen assets, and public domain kids music creating something that they can load down with as many keywords as possible. It's only a coincidence that it comes out looking like children's entertainment on Apokolips.

Google could get rid of this anytime, but they are probably also realizing a not insignificant amount of ad revenue from it.

If Disney decided to DMCA it, however, it would be gone tomorrow. Of course, there would be another one in its place in about two seconds, and DMCA letters only work on a case by case basis, so it's probably just too much of a hassle to constantly play whack-a-mole with this stuff.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:56 AM on November 5, 2017


YouTube's algorithm sucks at suggesting content.

Yeah, this shouldn't be surprising to anyone. This is my real life example of it skipping from dressmaking to Chomsky.
posted by adept256 at 6:00 AM on November 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


What makes this interesting to me is that the videos aren't really notably worse than a lot of "normal" media many parents would allow their children to see

No, that’s not true. Sometimes it’s truly awful rape-grooming garbage like a doctored episode of PAW Patrol I caught one time in which the characters drugged one of the female characters’ drinks as a “prank,” along with all kinds of other random but incredibly gory violence. Absolutely not even close to typical kid centered media content, but crafted to provoke younger kids to imitate dangerous and violent behaviors. That’s especially dangerous with kids at early stages of development when imitation is one of the most powerful mechanisms for learning.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:08 AM on November 5, 2017 [19 favorites]


Google could get rid of this anytime, but they are probably also realizing a not insignificant amount of ad revenue from it.

This particular example would also be lionized by NRA boosters as an invigorating "Stand your ground" indoctrination and a nice prelude to buying their child's first .22. Such as move would be easily spun as left wing censorship.

For most kids, violent confrontational action is soda pop for their developing brains. Once they taste it they cannot get enough.
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:25 AM on November 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


How much do you want to bet that if the inapropriate mashups became more politicised they wouldn't be removed asap.??

I bet a Disney property with (not so subtly) interspersed 'Black Lives Matter' flashcards would be removed so fast it would make one's head spin.
posted by Faintdreams at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


When you have kids you realize how fucked up it is that adults make a bunch of inappropriate fan content based on kids’ stuff. Kids stuff is for kids.

It's being made in the first place by adults--if adults never saw any value in a lot of these "kid" things, they'd never get made in the first place. The stuff that actually lacks character/story/humor that appeals to adults does exist, but it, you know, doesn't have that problem in fan spaces. I'm not myself any kind of fan of Spongebob death videos, but the point I'd like to make is that however weird they might be, the vast majority of the adults in any fandom producing anything you might call kid-inappropriate do not interact with children in those fandoms and don't want to.

None of my fandoms are that kind of space, but there's a lot of weird judgmental stuff about adults in fandom already. Strictly speaking, my problem isn't that somebody is making a fan work with Elsa with a gun--it's that it's being marketed directly and aggressively to children, we're not even talking about the space of "well they shouldn't do that because kids could happen across it". (Which is legit, but there's more reasonable ways to deal with that than "never allow any non-child-friendly fan work with Disney characters on any platform ever".) This isn't fandom, not even potentially-problematic fandom; this is a kitchen sink of literally anything these people could think of that would get clicks and eyeballs. They'd be making videos about pancakes if pancakes got more views than Elsa shooting people.
posted by Sequence at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


As someone with no kids who hasn't had to think about this before, I am equal parts surprised that some people go to so much work to create and monetize creepy content, and that youtube is apparently so heavily used by small children. (Showing my age, I guess I was assuming that people still used DVDs and broadcast tv for getting a few blessed moments of distraction, but thinking about it I can see the appeal of streaming video instead.)

Sometimes it’s truly awful rape-grooming garbage like a doctored episode of PAW Patrol I caught one time in which the characters drugged one of the female characters’ drinks as a “prank,”

Mainstream movies and tv aimed at children, not to mention the evening news and so on that they are undoubtedly seeing, are saturated with violence already, so I can see there being controversy about where exactly the appropriate line is. But I would find something like the above much more disturbing and gross, and I'd have to wonder at the motivations of someone creating that kind of content.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on November 5, 2017


Huh. I expected the clip to be more "normal" at first. Not to start off so weirdly off-center.

But YouTube always seems so untrustworthy to me. I rarely want to take the risk on the next suggested video for something I've searched for that I am always extremely glad that my nephew has his own Netflix for watching. That stuff seems a little more vetted--though I've sometimes made a bad call choosing something that's not "Kids" and been embarrassed with myself for months afterwards.
posted by crush at 7:31 AM on November 5, 2017


Showing my age, I guess I was assuming that people still used DVDs and broadcast tv for getting a few blessed moments of distraction, but thinking about it I can see the appeal of streaming video instead.

It's not so much that streaming is more appealing for the purpose of pacifying kids, it's just more that who watches DVDs and broadcast TV anymore. Cord-cutting continues to prevail, and has results in terms of how kids end up consuming media. I bought a new TV a couple years ago and still haven't bothered to connect the DVD player to it. Our kids only watch DVDs when they're in my wife's car for long trips but they spend plenty of time watching things on tablets. DVDs are for when there's no wifi.
posted by nickmark at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


How long until a 'radical' no-screens parenting movement emerges? I expect it's nascent now, and we'll see some formal, collective articulation and action within the next couple of years.

I half-watched "John Wick" on cable last night

I totally agree with your comment, and avoid violent content very consistently, but I did watch and enjoy both John Wick movies. For me, they work because that's all they're about: the shooting people isn't gratuitous, it's the point of the movies. (Of course, that a sentence like that can be written seriously sort of reinforces your comment, so...)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:56 AM on November 5, 2017



How long until a 'radical' no-screens parenting movement emerges? I expect it's nascent now, and we'll see some formal, collective articulation and action within the next couple of years.


this has long been the done thing among the tech types who make these platforms and devices. as you predict, it is to some extent getting more popular.
posted by halation at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2017 [10 favorites]


I feel like we all have very short memories. I remember this stuff being all over the internet in the ‘90s—loads of GeoCities sites about killing Barney or Pikachu or whatever was the annoying character du jour, and yes, as kids we found them and they were upsetting. Maybe what’s being missed here is that YouTube isn’t “a website”: YOUTUBE IS THE INTERNET. What’s changed about content hosting between 1997 and 2017 is that instead of GeoCities/Angelfire/etc. sites living in their own silos and relying on Alta Vista to farm out their searching, on YouTube everything lives on the same sub domain and the search is internal and seamless.

That’s not to say I don’t think this stuff is awful—I do—it’s just that I think we’re still trying to conceive of it in a framework where YouTube is the content provider as opposed to the content host. There are hundreds of hours of video being posted to YouTube per minute. Who could possibly prescreen it all? YouTube Kids is trying to be the NetNanny (or one of its ilk) of the day and of course it’s failing for all of the same reasons they failed 20 years ago.
posted by capricorn at 8:23 AM on November 5, 2017 [8 favorites]


> YouTube Kids is trying to be the NetNanny (or one of its ilk) of the day and of course it’s failing for all of the same reasons they failed 20 years ago.

NetNanny didn't actually recommend content though, as far as I know. There were kids' portals like Yahooligans that I never spent much time on but seemed almost painfully clean.

And these YouTube videos are getting shown to really young kids, it seems like. I remember looking for "edgy" content on the early internet too, but you had to be able to read and write to search for it.
posted by smelendez at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


This particular stuff seems like pure keyword farming to me. OTOH, the Youtube Poop crowd produces juvenile and often horrible cartoon remix videos but seems more like a legit community (and they have a weird thing for Hank Hill).
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Maybe I was just a kid during a less civilized, more savage time, but the thing that struck me about the video is that it was showing things that kids of my era would do with their action figures: play with them in ways that were not necessarily according to the intent of the manufacturers. Barbie could grab G.I. Joe's M-16 and throw down while Batman and Spock had a tea party. (Obviously not the case for some of the worse examples cited here; I didn't even know what PAW Patrol was but FFS, internet.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:44 AM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, keyword farming was my guess too. I'm sure kids are searching for guns on YouTube a lot. There's also a bunch of videos with spanking and first aid and poop and tons and tons of butts and injections. They're like the video version of Googlebombing.

Some of them are obviously intentionally creepy narratives probably ultimately intended for adults, like there was one nursery rhyme channel that slowly became a story about how the host was a human who'd been taken over by an AI and ended up going full Nazi with an AI Hitler or something. (Oh, here. The channel is gone, but this guy summarizes it looks like.)

I don't know which ones are showing up on the Kids version of YouTube, but from what I've heard, a lot of kids really love that crap.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2017


Real life imitates SCP Foundation.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


Mainstream movies and tv aimed at children, not to mention the evening news and so on that they are undoubtedly seeing,

Maybe in some families, but we followed the now standard pediatrician advice not to let kids under 18 months watch any screens at all and strictly limited exposure to “mainstream media” (as if that even exists anymore in the age of hyper-personalized content and niche audience marketing).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Not that there hasn’t been intense social pressure to be more lax and that we haven’t slipped since our divorce, but no, not all kids get exposed to the idea it can be a funny joke to secretly drug a friend’s drink when they’re still too young to exercise independent critical judgment.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Oyéah at 11:20 AM on November 5, 2017


P.S. It just occurred to me that my own childhood was well before Sandy Hook, so yeah, on reflection, I guess I can understand why a lot of parents now wouldn't be happy with Elsa and Spider-Man sporting primary-colored machine guns.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:15 PM on November 5, 2017


The-New-Normal
posted by Oyéah at 12:39 PM on November 5, 2017


But YouTube always seems so untrustworthy to me.

Dunno, I pretty much only use YouTube for Let's Plays, science videos, and wacky builder videos like Simone Giertz, Hacksmith, Colin Furze and such.

Not that there hasn’t been intense social pressure to be more lax and that we haven’t slipped since our divorce, but no, not all kids get exposed to the idea it can be a funny joke to secretly drug a friend’s drink when they’re still too young to exercise independent critical judgment.


Erm, I once blew a palmful of pepper in my stepfather's face (I was 8 or 9) because I thought it would be funny to make him sneeze.
posted by Samizdata at 1:13 PM on November 5, 2017


This seems like the right place to share the nightmare that is Pregnant Elsa Visits Doctor Spiderman. Closing in on 6 million views, I have no idea why Disney hasn't brought the hammer down on this kind of thing.
posted by slagheap at 1:24 PM on November 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think a great example of how this happens: I have a Girls Who Code group of middle schoolers going right now. They're doing generally great on their project and I'm very pleased with their progress. But they get distracted super easy. So one of our groups, just a couple minutes ago? The girls were having some CSS trouble. And within like 60 seconds of discovering the problem, before asking for help or something...

...somehow they were laughing and reading quotes out loud from Wikiquote.

...quotes from Adolf Hitler.

Kids are drawn to stuff they perceive as "taboo" and to brands they identify, so yeah, this just seems like a complete catnip combo. It takes a lot of active supervision to keep these girls, who are smart and generally well-behaved 7th and 8th graders, from drifting off towards Nazis; I can't imagine how much faster that happens with younger kids.
posted by Sequence at 1:28 PM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


This seems like the right place to share the nightmare that is Pregnant Elsa Visits Doctor Spiderman.

[img src = "./farnsworth/idontwanttoliveonthisplanetanymore.png"]
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:29 PM on November 5, 2017


Spiderman Needs to Pee in Elsa's Bathtub has 33 million views. It's in a stop motion playdoh style and the sidebar had lots of others like it with tens of millions of views each. It's really fascinating how these are put together since they do have "stories" in a really simple way, similar to old comics like Little Lulu did, with a set group of characters in some basic locales engaged in series of brief "funny" sequences that kind of tie together into a general theme, but one of what would normally be considered taboo, risque, or more adultish than old comics would have allowed.

The episodes I've watched go back and forth between pretty standard dopiness, bathroom humor and childish views of adult sexuality and violence, and then sometimes go beyond that to more bizarre and disturbing elements, though much of the disturbing elements are a mix between the production and methods of the episodes, where the non-verbal action and crude animation lends an air of added menace to even banal actions given the uncertainty of the aims and values of the makers.

Normal mass media, for all its problems, is at least generally predictable in what its will show and how it will do so, these videos remove that sense of familiarity making it seem like they could do anything, and they kinda do within a fairly narrow range that they seem to think will captivate children. They probably aren't wrong about that either given the "topics" they repeatedly emphasize.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:54 PM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oops, I lost a sentence there mentioning the other aspect of the disturbing nature of the videos where the actions carry suggestions of sexuality being linked to assault and other forms of equally disagreeable implication. How much kids pick up on that and how jarring seeing these videos is for adults might make looking more closely at main stream media and its implications more pressing, since kids will likely see mass media as we see these videos. Full of suggestive, disturbing and fascinating information that lacks clear purpose or meaning.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2017


Remember the plague of weird medical/pregnancy apps such as Anna Giving Birth? This seems like their pivot to video strategy. I would really love for someone to do a behind the scenes video for these shops, wherever the heck in the world they are.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:07 PM on November 5, 2017


Jesus, I wish I hadn't clicked...the Spiderman Elsa thing leads to some really weird live action stuff that has kids playing along with adults dressed up in spandex superhero outfits, acting "silly"...it's freaking me the hell out, (whereas the the CG stuff only seemed disturbing).
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:43 PM on November 5, 2017


I mean, it's got to be an AI making these things, right? Nascent generalized autonomous internet entity that min-maxed cycles burned vs. revenue earned and spit this thing out? What's it going to do with the cash, is what I want to know....
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 3:33 PM on November 5, 2017


Obvs they need the money to pay for health care ever since Dr. Spiderman got dropped from their insurance network
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:46 PM on November 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Oh! A blog I follow did a great post about this:

A Look at Those Creepy Spider-Man and Elsa Videos on YouTube
posted by spacewaitress at 5:00 PM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


As a Gen X'er, I'd like to apologize for my generation making nihilism seem cool, but you were only supposed to take it in measured quantities, only use top-quality stuff, and keep it out of the reach of small children (especially Greg's turd brother that always tattled on us when he heard cursing in Dead Milkmen songs)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:33 PM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


> I mean, it's got to be an AI making these things, right? Nascent generalized autonomous internet entity that min-maxed cycles burned vs. revenue earned and spit this thing out?

Pushkin?
posted by genpfault at 7:42 PM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am sure I read about this here last year. It was a live action Elsa shootout though. Where else would I have found out about such things?
posted by asok at 1:59 AM on November 6, 2017


It goes deeper. Hatsune Miku reacting to some of these videos.
posted by lucidium at 5:04 AM on November 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I recoil in horror whenever I hear of parents giving their kids a screen with youtube and walking away.
posted by Theta States at 8:22 AM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


100% agreed. On Youtube, it's not so much "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" as it is "2 degrees of white nationalism" and "1 degree of rampant misogyny", for nearly anything on the platform. And of course, for gaming videos, it's usually 0 degrees of separation -- it's baked right into a huge majority of videos, no matter how benign they seem.
posted by tocts at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2017


Something is wrong on the internet muses on the the idea of a world where tech has accidentally incentivised semi-automated content generation systems chasing ad views with keyword gaming and A/B testing to show nightmares to small children.
posted by figurant at 11:01 AM on November 6, 2017 [16 favorites]


I started writing this in the other thread before it was (grumble, grumble) deleted, so I guess I'll leave it here.

I feel like the only workable solution to this is to rely on a gatekeeper model, where only hand-picked content gets in. Which means more corporate content. That depresses me.

It seems like YouTube is trying to have it both ways. It's a totally open platform, anyone can make an account and upload videos, but they can throw you off any time for any reason. Then only people they approve to become a "partner" will earn money. Then only specific videos that meet their tests will earn money. Then only videos they want to show in the sidebar or "up next" box will appear there. Then only videos they want to feature will be featured. Then only videos they want in YouTube Kids will show up in the YouTube Kids app. There's a whole lot of gatekeeping going on with YouTube.

The responsibility of it has just been diffused across various algorithms and anonymous low-wage contract workers around the world. If Nickelodeon airs something a parent disapproves of, there's a well-defined and known set of people who served as gatekeepers for that program getting to air. If YouTube Kids shows your kids "PAW Patrol Babies Pretend to Die Suicide by Annabelle Hypnotized," it's just blamed on "the algorithm" despite the host of people involved in making such a video, getting it to you, developing those algorithms, and paying to run ads against it.

At the end of the day, what we've got is basically YouTube saying "let's have the Disney Channel, but we'll replace the bit where they produce and buy programming with non-guaranteed performance-based revenue share entirely at our discretion, accept content from people whose names we don't even know, and replace the whole bit where we read the scripts and watch the shows with ???" and parents said "sure, I'll have my kids watch that."
posted by zachlipton at 12:25 PM on November 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Something is wrong on the internet muses on the the idea of a world where tech has accidentally incentivised semi-automated content generation systems chasing ad views with keyword gaming and A/B testing to show nightmares to small children.

^ I seriously recommend reading the article linked by figurant above. It's really good and gets at why these videos are so disturbing beyond the fact that they're violent (which, while upsetting, is not remarkable):

"We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies."

And:

"What concerns me is not just the violence being done to children here, although that concerns me deeply. What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects."
posted by adso at 2:52 PM on November 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


Watching some of these videos, I got the same weird, primal sense of fear that I felt when I was a kid and saw something that I knew was "wrong", but didn't know why, and couldn't look away.

The question that keeps bugging me: Why? Who is behind these creepy videos? What is their motivation? It clearly isn't as simple as "for the lulz." That explains the obvious intentional troll stuff (like the hidden dick pic in the Netflix show), but doesn't explain the endless, seemingly algorithmically generated videos targeting children with weirdly inappropriate stuff. And in many of these videos there are actual humans live acting whatever random scenario the computer has come up with.

It's disturbing when you think there may be people out there trying to intentionally scare or corrupt children. But I'm starting to think that isn't the case. Instead, for whatever reason, children are just drawn to these weirdly disturbing videos, and the auto generated content is arising to fulfill the demand. Many of these tropes seem to play on typical childhood fears, like getting shots, going to the dentist, or getting cuts. And then some are just bizarre. Out of the thousands of random scenarios they generated, the bots are seeing that those "creepy" videos get the most views, and they're making more in response. The robotic 'hive mind' has tapped into the collective subconscious of children and discovered the weird scenarios that they are subconsciously drawn to.

It disturbs me to think about these kids watching these videos, not because they enjoy them or even consciously want to watch them, but simply because they're subconsciously mesmerized by them. We want kids to watch happy innocent stuff, and they may consciously want that too, but the view counts on these things suggest that they're subconsciously drawn to watching disturbing things - which is in itself disturbing. It's not like adults consciously choosing to watch a horror movie because on some level we enjoy being scared. It's more like that primal fear I had when I was a kid and saw something "wrong" but couldn't look away. The bots have figured out how to monetize that.
posted by karakumy at 7:22 PM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


I really don't think the view counts on these videos hold any meaning at all. Assuming they're not being directly manipulated by Youtube itself for obscure reasons, there's gotta be a zillion bots involved.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:51 PM on November 6, 2017


I've got a nearly three-year-old and I admit we've given in to the peacemaking powers of the iPad and YouTube (since replaced with YouTube Kids, though I realize that isn't unaffected by this, either). Seeing some of the videos and channels linked from here and from the James Bridle article, I realize I've heard the audio from some of these videos while my daughter was in the back seat, elsewhere in the room, or wherever. Consequently, I don't normally see the videos — and the innocent-sounding music makes it easy for them to conceal freakish, disturbing visuals — but I know the music in some of these videos, which tells me she's probably seen some of this crap. (I have DEFINITELY seen her watch that "Toy Freaks" garbage.)

This doesn't happen to me a lot, but seeing some of these videos and reading the Bridle article has left me nearly speechless. More than that, I'm feeling kind of nauseous and just sickened. I've always been HUGELY anti-censorship, pro-free speech, but . . . manipulating children's minds always just seemed like something you should have sense enough not to do.

I'm at a loss for words. I feel simultaneously irresponsible as a parent and also powerless to fight this shit. Actually, I just feel sick.
posted by CommonSense at 8:44 PM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Step 1: Panic
Step 2: Everything You Do As A Parent Is Wrong
...
OK, Step 3: Exercising effective control over YouTube. (Not sure how well this works with YouTube Kids, but my kid doesn't like to use YouTube Kids). Turn on Restricted Mode. Set up a Google account, specifically for your kid to use on YouTube. Log in on the iPad. Subscribe to channels that are actually good. On a desktop computer, you can log in to the YouTube account and look at video history and search history. If you remove (X) things that seem sketchy, and tell YouTube you're not interested in (3 vertical dots, or Report) stuff that you (the parent) don't approve of, the algorithm will steer away from that stuff.

If Step 3 fails, backup plan is VHS tapes of Barney. DON'T WHITEWASH THE HORRIBLE PAST.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:58 AM on November 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


The hand wringy-ness is off the scale. Look, if you can't be bothered to curate your own kids media consumption, that's on you, not YouTube.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:01 AM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Define "curate."
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:07 AM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have two young children, and sadly I'd rather have them watch the shootout than *any* network tv. How do you explain The Good Place "trolley episode" from a few weeks ago? This counts as "tame".

I guess I really have to stretch to see the differences between this and GI Joe and Transformer cartoons from my childhood, where a common complaint was "nobody ever died".
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2017


Geoff Manaugh: The Ghost of Cognition Past, or Thinking Like An Algorithm builds on the Bridle essay above. Manaugh is less concerned with the disturbing content of this wierd subset of kids videos then with their keyword min-maxing incoherence and how it might influence the developing mind. Also, it contains the phrase Big Dada.
posted by figurant at 10:40 AM on November 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


I guess I really have to stretch to see the differences between this and GI Joe and Transformer cartoons from my childhood, where a common complaint was "nobody ever died".

You may not be seeing the real stuff, especially because Brindle is showing the least worst examples. Some of this stuff is deeply disturbing and traumatising, and the live action stuff is even worse. I simply refuse to link it here.

"I had scary cartoons as a kid" is the worst kind of false equivalence. Yes, Bambi made people cry and Snow White had scary scenes. Those films are to these what Reservoir Dogs is to snuff.
posted by bonaldi at 4:50 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Look, if you can't be bothered to curate your own kids media consumption, that's on you, not YouTube.

I think a lot of people, certainly me, are coming from a place of "other people's kids are going to be my nurses later and given a median level of exposure to this stuff significantly above zero, what does that mean?" more than "oh cover the world in bubble wrap that I need make no trade-offs or do work to protect children's safety".
posted by PMdixon at 5:52 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]




homunculus: “The creepy videos that put me off my children watching YouTube alone”
Just to add a personal anecdote: I decided that I wanted to see one of the kind of videos mentioned in the "Something is Wrong on The Internet" article to see what the fuss is about

I found one of the channels linked, went to its upload page, and picked the newest video which at that point was just hours old. It was a half-hour computer-animated video.

In the first few minutes, The Joker and other villains wave a magic wand and make The Hulk, Spider-man, Spider-woman, and Elsa pregnant. They all go to the doctor and get ultrasounds. Then there's a random beat-'em-up between the heroes and villains. Then the doctor uses a giant syringe to give The Hulk a shot which he acts like is very painful, at which point he stops bring pregnant, i.e. the doctor gives The Hulk an abortion. In the meantime, The Joker sneaks into the doctor's office and gropes Elsa as she lays on the examination table and cries. At which point, thoroughly horrified, I skipped ahead and was treated to the heroes riding around Candyland on a giant syringe singing "If You're Happy and You Know It." I skipped ahead further and was treated to a weird rendition of "Ten Little Monkeys." At which point I had had enough.

Understand that, while the plot is similar and it stars the same characters, this is an entirely different pregnant-superhero-ultrasound-hypodermic-needle video than the one linked in homunculus' link.

I kind of wish YouTube would try and get to the bottom of this tout de suite.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:38 PM on November 10, 2017 [5 favorites]


“YouTube says it will crack down on bizarre videos targeting children,” Ben Popper, The Verge, 09 November 2017
posted by ob1quixote at 9:36 AM on November 11, 2017


How to quit YouTube Kids:

1. Install Plex on a home PC/laptop
2. Install a YouTube downloader plugin
3. Spend 10 minutes downloading appropriate content, should be able to get 10 hours of content easily
4. Add to Plex media library
5. Install VLC on tablet/phone
6. Uninstall YouTube kids
7. Show kids how to use VLC
posted by benzenedream at 12:14 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Folding Ideas: Weird Kids' Videos and Gaming the Algorithm
posted by PenDevil at 11:32 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


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