I tell people constantly that nothing online is kid-friendly. I feel like my skepticism is well earned, so I make sure other people understand it. I recently made the argument that because cartoon porn existed (abundantly) online and the safe search feature on most search engines that filter out explicit search results miss animated porn, a child searching Google Images for a beloved cartoon character could easily get an explicit version of that character returned, and the person to whom I was speaking said something to the effect of “yeah but, how likely is that? Who would target kids?” To answer that question, I simply said “Elsagate.”
If you’re anything like the friend I was speaking to, you may not be aware of Elsagate. In 2017, TheLocalGamer created a subreddit to talk about something they had noticed on YouTube: someone, or a group of someones, were using well-known children’s characters, with the freeze frame on innocent enough pictures of these characters, to infiltrate children’s YouTube channels with inappropriate videos featuring these animations. It seems like this is who coined the term Elsagate to refer to the conspiracy of popular children’s characters (Elsa being the main character from the recent Disney movie Frozen) being perverted, but to be clear: this subreddit wasn’t the start of the actual phenomenon; it wasn’t even the start of the whistleblowing. TubeFilter had reported on similar stuff (this includes some disturbing photo and video material) in February of 2017. Whether there is an actual conspiracy or just a bunch of people realizing that children’s characters in compromising and inappropriate situations are cash cows, YouTube responded and changed their policies regarding monetization and human moderators in June of 2017, but even as late as October and November of 2017, news sources were reporting on inappropriate content on the YouTube Kids app, which exists specifically to keep this stuff out.
So, What Does That Mean?
What indeed. For starters, although the news has died down surrounding it, the damage has been done, and honestly, could still worsen. The policy merely states that certain types of videos will have advertising pulled from them-i.e, they won’t be able to make money from them, but that they could still, theoretically, be allowed to remain on the platform if other violations aren’t made. Add to that the fact that it’d really be impossible to view every single video uploaded on YouTube, and there’s a whole bunch of potentially hazardous content out there aimed at kids. And, just as importantly, YouTube isn’t the only website out there with “kid-friendly” video content.
So, What Do We Do?
Parents were the ones that found the inappropriate content on YouTube Kids, and concerned web users found the content on YouTube. The single most important thing when you’re online is to be vigilant and be aware of what your kids are doing. Don’t trust that something is kid-friendly because it’s marketed that way; use it yourself for a while before letting your kids use it. Sites like YouTube have too much content to be effectively filtered from within the company, and who’s to say what someone else might find OK for your two-year-old to watch passes your scrutiny as well. On top of all that, consider employing the use of another web filter, just to be sure. It might sound like a lot, but the Internet is a vast place; you need every tool in your box to navigate it safely.