Children, YouTube and Online Predators - Is YouTube's algorithm system helpful to paedophiles?
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
A polemic discussion has erupted over YouTube's algorithm system recently. A new report points out the site's recommendation algorithm suggests home videos featuring children to paedophiles, and specialists have called it a failure.
According to Harvard researcher Jonas Kaiser, YouTube’s automated recommendation system may suggest content in which children appear after some users watch videos with sexual connotation. This expert points out that this ends up "sexualizing" innocent videos of children in everyday situations. During an interview with journalist Kiet Do (CBS Local - USA), Kaiser noted that: "50 or so channels that had basically content that was all sexual in nature or sexualized, some of them over age, some of them definitely underage. And from there, we then looked at YouTube's recommendations from these channels and basically stumbled into this world of child exploitation videos."
Also, he explained: "The only real difference with this video with more views was the child had less clothing on" another observation: "Some of these videos were picked out for whichever reason and then recommended through the algorithm." Kaiser also points out: "This just shines a spotlight on how algorithms work, that they will just keep showing people what they want to see. In this case, it caters to paedophiles,". This author's research was featured in the New York Times with the headline "On YouTube's Digital Playground, An Open Gate For Paedophiles."
WHERE ARE THE OTHER POSSIBLE RISKS?
Besides the possibility of including innocent videos in a sexualized context, another potential problem happens when a paedophile finds information in these videos that they can use to contact the child through other social networks, explains the IT specialist, Marcelo Lima, and it is a quite concerning. Lima goes on to mention that some of these online predators have used in the past the comment space to instruct children on creating new videos. In addition, they can contact other predators and flag the time in the videos where children are most exposed. Lima also states that some reports have pointed out that these online predators may download the videos and uploaded them to their own channels to prevent them from being removed by the original users.
In its official blog, YouTube wrote a post saying they had disabled comments on videos featuring minors, reduced video recommendations featuring minors in compromising situations and deleted 800,000 videos for violating child safety policies. At the beginning of this year, Andy Burrows, NSPCC Associate Head of Child Safety Online, has already emphasized his concerns about the issues related to YouTube and possible child exploitation (The Sun): "Sadly, this is just another example of tech companies not prioritising children’s safety and, once again, shows the only option is for the Government to bring in an independent statutory regulator to force social networks to follow the rules or face tough consequences."
My personal point of view: Even though you (as a parent) may have concerns about the risks of broadcasting on this video platform, your children may see it as a way of expressing themselves, learning digital skills, sharing content with close friends, and experimenting creatively. I think that we have to be aware and stay informed of the possible consequences and take into account the potential threats, such as those mentioned in this article. I believe that it is essential that parents should evaluate and be involved with what our children are posting on YouTube. Unfortunately, we have to try to see the world through the enemy's lens sometimes. But it is a really good topic for a future post “effective ways to keep kids safe on YouTube.”
And if you're suspicious of something that could identify as an inappropriate content or a suspicious user, report it using YouTube’s confidential online tool (reporting content is anonymous) click here to see more details. As parents, we can help to make the internet a safe place for children.
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