This week YouTube announced that they will not allow users to leave comments on some content featuring children, amidst a scandal around what one commentator has called a “softcore pedophilia ring.”
In a blog post, the Google-owned streaming service said that any videos that feature “young minors” or “older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior,” would have the comments section disabled.
YouTube has said that it will keep comments active for a small number of creators under the age of 18. However, this comes with a catch – the comments will be closely monitored in the interest of safety. According to the statement released by YouTube, “these channels will be required to actively moderate their comments, beyond just using our moderation tools, and demonstrate a low risk of predatory behavior.”
Furthermore, YouTube has promised to launch a more advanced algorithm to automatically “identify and remove predatory comments.” The algorithm is “more sweeping in scope,” projected to catch up to twice as much predatory behavior. Initially, the approach is going to be tested will a small number of minor-creators, with a view to rolling out the technology to more accounts after the study is complete.
The scandal around child safety began last week when vlogger Matt Wilson detailed how pedophiles could enter a “wormhole” of videos containing images of children in sexually suggestive poses. This was facilitated through the comments section, where predators would post timestamps to other content. Subsequently, YouTubes automated algorithms would recommend similar videos.
However, YouTube is no stranger to concerns about child safety. In 2017, a scandal emerged when explicit comments appeared under videos of kids doing innocuous activities, like dancing or doing gymnastics. Later that year, parents began to notice disturbing content appearing on YouTube Kids. For example, a video surfaced showing Spiderman urinating on Elsa, the princess from ‘Frozen’.
Despite parents’ concerns, YouTube only sprang into action after major corporations like Nestlé, AT&T, and Disney pulled their advertising spending after discovering their ads were appearing next to content featuring inappropriate comments. Currently, it is unclear whether or not these companies will renew their advertising contracts.
It also seems that ad money is at the crux of concerns raised by creators. Several young creators have voiced concerns that a ban on comments will limit their ability to monetize their content through advertising. Furthermore, the comments section is an important way for creators to measure their engagement. However, YouTube has sought to reassure creators by stating, “we also know that this is the right thing to do to protect the YouTube community.”