In a recent appearance by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki at the South by Southwest Festival, she suggested that YouTube is countering the conspiracy-related videos that have been spreading like wildfire on the platform — including videos telling viewers that high school senior and Parkland, Fl. survivor David Hogg is an actor.
Specifically, Wojcicki outlined YouTube’s plans to add “information cues,” including links to Wikipedia pages that debunk garbage content for viewers if they choose to learn more. (Somewhat strangely, no one at YouTube had told Wikipedia about this plan.)
Either way, the platform is going to have do much better than that, suggests a new Business Insider report that says YouTube Kids has a huge problem with conspiracy videos, too. To wit, the three-year-old, ostensibly kid-friendly version of YouTube is showing its young viewers videos that preach the nonsensical, including “that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the planet is ruled by reptile-human hybrids,” according to BI’s own first-hand findings.
In fact, when BI searched for “UFO” on YouTube Kids, one of the top videos to appear was a nearly five-hour-long lecture by professional conspiracy theorist David Icke, who covers everything in the clip from “reptile human bloodlines,” to the Freemasons, who he credits with building the Statue of Liberty, Las Vegas, Christianity, and Islam, among other things. (The Freemasons also killed President John Kennedy, he tells viewers.).
Business Insider says YouTube removed the videos from YouTube Kids after its editorial team contacted the company. YouTube also issued the following statement: “The YouTube Kids app is home to a wide variety of content that includes enriching and entertaining videos for families. This content is screened using human trained systems. That being said, no system is perfect and sometimes we miss the mark. When we do, we take immediate action to block the videos or, as necessary, channels from appearing in the app. We will continue to work to improve the YouTube Kids app experience.”
It’s further worth noting that parents are empowered with additional controls that allow them to block videos or channels they don’t like, at least in most of the world. (Parents in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, are still waiting on this feature.) They can also turn search on or off, depending on how much access they want to give their kids.
The company says, too, that of the videos cited by BI, on average they had a little more than 100 total views.
That’s not going to be good enough for many parents, who want to be able to trust YouTube Kids wholeheartedly. Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who previously led product at YouTube and has a young daughter, may have summed it up best in a tweet that he published earlier this afternoon, writing that “when you create and market an app to kids, the level of care and custodial responsibility you need to take is 100x usual. Clean it up or shut it down pls.”
YouTube has been reluctant to tinker with is recommendation algorithm because its “main objective is to keep you consuming YouTube videos for as long as possible” Wired noted this past week. (Crazy theories are apparently quite sticky). Wired also reported that despite a recent uproar about all the conspiracy theory content, YouTube still doesn’t have clear rules around when whether these videos violate its community guidelines, which cover bullying, hate speech, graphic violence, and sexually explicit content.
Wojcicki said during her festival appearance that “People can still watch the videos, but then they have access to additional information.”
Hopefully, as it evolves, YouTube will come up with a more sophisticated solution to the spread of misinformation, especially when it comes to its younger viewers. The scale of this particular issue may comparatively small. But as it is, this editor doesn’t allow her kids to watch YouTube Kids without strict supervision for fear of what they might see. At this point, we’d be surprised if parents at YouTube did otherwise.