A YouTube content creator has found what he calls a “wormhole” that, within as few as five clicks, could lead to a “soft-core pedophilia ring” where pedophiles are connecting with each other in the comments sections of innocuous videos featuring children.
That content creator is Matt Watson, also known as MattsWhatItIs, who posted a video of his finds on Sunday.
As of Thursday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than two million times.
In it is a collection of clips, many of them innocent, that show kids doing things like gymnastics, stretching, playing Twister, or simply hanging out with friends – nothing that would get the videos blocked by content filters.
Other videos show flashes of exposed genitals, or feature children – most of them girls – doing the splits or lifting up their tops to show their nipples.
According to Wired, some of the children appear to be as young as five. Many of the videos have been seen by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers, and they have hundreds of comments.
Those content streams are filled with lechery: for example, a timestamp on one comment about “she’ll make a great mother some day” jumps to a picture of a child’s bare legs.
Other remarks praise the children, jump to points in the video that picture children’s legs or buttocks, ask whether they’re wearing underwear, or simply insert strings of sexually suggestive emojis.
Watson found that child oglers are sharing their social media contact details in the comments. Most disturbing of all are the links to actual child abuse imagery he uncovered.
Watson criticized YouTube for monetizing these videos: he called out major brands, including McDonald’s, Lysol, Disney, Reese’s, Dodge Ram, and Maybelline, among many others.
Kiss those ad dollars goodbye
Many of the advertisers identified in Watson’s video and in Wired’s subsequent report – among them Epic Games and GNC – said they’ve suspended advertising on YouTube.
Bloomberg News on Wednesday reported that the Walt Disney Company has also pulled its ads, as has Nestle SA.
Chi Hea Cho, a spokeswoman for YouTube’s parent company, Google, told the New York Times that the pedophiles’ comments and actions are “abhorrent.”
Any content – including comments – that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.
She said that the company took “immediate action” by deleting over 400 YouTube channels because of comments that they’d left on videos.
YouTube also disabled comments on tens of millions of videos featuring minors, removed thousands of inappropriate comments on videos with young people in them, and reported illegal comments to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
An old problem
As Watson noted in his video, this is a problem that YouTube has been battling for years.
Back in 2017, YouTube got in trouble for monetizing disturbing videos meant for kids, such as a Claymation Spiderman urinating on Elsa of Frozen and a cartoon showing Mickey Mouse lying in the street in a pool of blood as Minnie Mouse looks on.
At the time, YouTube said that it used a combination of automated systems and human flagging to block inappropriate comments – be they predatory or sexual – on videos featuring minors.
But it would do more, it said, such as “turn[ing] off all comments on videos of minors where we see these types of comments.”
At YouTube’s scale, is this even fixable?
Given the size and reach of YouTube, the question that inevitably arises when it comes to the long-running saga of trying to find and filter inappropriate content on YouTube is, “Can this ever be fixed?”
One solution is to do away with comments altogether – and if YouTube were to do so, it would find itself in good company.
Goodbye and good riddance, Vice said back at the end of 2016, when it killed a comments section that it said had turned into:
…racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise.
Watson’s video shows that YouTube’s comments section, when it comes to giving child predators a forum in which they can indulge their predilections, goes beyond vile and into the realm of dangerous.
Readers, your thoughts: is it time for YouTube to turn off comments? Is there anything there worth saving?