Media month: YouTube under fire… again

By Khizar Mohammad

6th March 2019

YouTube – the world’s undisputed favourite video sharing platform – was under fire again this month after allegations that it has inadvertently provided a platform for paedophiles to build surreptitious networks.

The controversy

Vlogger Matt Watson uncovered that videos of children on the platform were being identified and shared by a network of paedophiles, via the comments section beneath each post. These videos were predominantly of girls under the age of 13, taking part in innocent activities such as playing Twister, practising gymnastics or eating ice cream.

Watson spotted YouTube users posting specific timestamps of the children in compromising positions, trading contact information and even sharing links to illegal, pornographic content.

Moreover, ads from some of the world’s biggest brands were appearing alongside these videos. It comes as no surprise, then, that the likes of Nestlé, Disney and AT&T, have temporarily pulled all advertising from YouTube.

One of the most interesting things about this story is that it’s not the first time the platform’s advertising and video algorithm has been the subject of scandal. In 2017, brands including Procter & Gamble, Marks & Spencer and Audi pulled spend after their ads appeared next to extremist and violent content.

Steps taken

In this most recent instance, YouTube was quick to act—closing more than 400 channels hosting inappropriate content within two days and referring cases to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. In addition, it has disabled the comments sections of millions of additional videos involving children.

But some – including Watson – have argued it wasn’t quick enough—with similar issues having been flagged by the BBC and The Times as far back as 2017. YouTube did introduce new child protection measures at the time, including a new public reporting system and increased enforcement of videos that could be seen to endanger children, but the suggestion is that this response has proven insufficient.

Its priority will rightly be the protection of children across its platform. But, considering YouTube made parent company Alphabet nearly $137 billion from advertising in 2018 – and in this age of ‘woke’ brand culture and corporate social responsibility – its will likely place equal importance on ensuring it can offer a brand-safe environment for its customers.