In the wake of a viral Medium post calling attention to some very disturbing YouTube channels apparently aimed at children, YouTube has pledged its commitment to ensuring that its channels are safe, clean, and family-friendly. The problem is, well, it’s hard to clean up a site to which hundreds of hours of video are uploaded every minute — and there are videos that might be even worse than merely “creepy.”
A recent investigation by The Times found that pedophiles have been using the site as some sort of twisted “shop window” to show off abused children and reach out to other members of the “community.”
One Brazilian paedophile posted a dozen short videos showing children standing silently, licking their lips or dancing. One showed a masked child aged about ten saying: “Hey guys I got new underwear.”
Each video was emblazoned with the paedophile’s email address. When an undercover reporter made contact, the man boasted he had 315 gigabytes of material showing “naked” children.
Another alleged child abuser, calling himself Horny Pastor, was allowed to create a YouTube channel despite having a username that had been flagged to US and Canadian child-abuse authorities. He posted five videos including one called “12 yr old Nancy twerking in grey outfit”. In his profile section he invited viewers to swap explicit content on Telegram, the encrypted chat application.
The mere existence of this sort of content is in itself deeply disturbing. It is child exploitation and abuse, plain and simple. But it seems important to keep in mind that — as much as we may wish it could — YouTube cannot solve the horribly complex and depressing problem of online child pornography. This sort of general outrage, while well-intentioned, masks the real problem for YouTube: It’s created an environment where disturbed individuals can put up videos like these without any real fear of discovery (or reprisal). YouTube has grown to a scale that makes it almost impossible to adequately moderate, and it’s unclear what the solution is beyond radically reducing the pace of its growth.