Since its creation in 2005, YouTube has seen the growth and death of hundreds of internet trends, practically inventing the concept of a viral video. However in 2017 YouTube has been on the decline, with increased corporation and waving creator freedoms turning the focus towards making money rather than YouTube’s original creator-centered format. Although trends continue to spawn from the platform, not all have been in good fun.
Many creators have turned to the platform purely for the monetary gain, doing everything they can to squeeze through loopholes in the flawed system, and they have been mostly successful. As a result of YouTube’s inability to filter questionable, yet lucrative content, there has been a disturbing new trend picking up speed on the site where creators have made innapropriate cartoons targeted towards children.
The trend likely began when a few channels oriented towards kids became highly successful posting content such as toy reviews and cartoon character role-playing. By including popular children’s character names in the tags, these videos developed into a sort of clickbait for young children, exploiting YouTube’s automated algorithms, the mathematical system that predicts what someone wants to watch based on their viewing history. This ensured that young children could watch video after video.
Due to YouTube’s viewer retention time based system, longer videos with more recognizable characters to hook young kids became extremely successful, meaning the owners of these channels simply had to push out as many videos as possible with no regard for quality. The content quality of these videos dropped drastically as the amount of videos skyrocketed, with more and more creators simply following the same formula to make easy money.
Somewhere along this downward spiral, something went horribly wrong. The style transitioned from innocent toy review and role play type channels to crudely animated fake versions of children’s TV show episodes. Soon, these animations became frequent on YouTube while remaining unseen by the average viewer, hiding below the surface, only visible to those who search for them, or who the algorithms would recommend them to. Unfortunately the algorithms recommended these videos primarily to children who had already been watching the real versions of their favorite TV shows on the site.
The animations commonly feature popular children’s TV and movie characters badly animated into strange situations, often not suitable for young children. Profanity, gross-out humor, blood, and even strange cult-like behavior are commonplace in this odd sub genre.
It’s easy to be angry at YouTube for allowing this content to exist, and for allowing it to creep into the video recommendations of young children, but the fault isn’t entirely their own. YouTube relies heavily on user-generated content, which puts them in danger of being sued if they host copyright infringing content, videos plagiarizing or stealing visual elements from other people, posted by their channel owners.
The only way YouTube can avoid major legal trouble is to have any infringing content immediately removed. With the massive volume of videos being constantly uploaded, there is no way to filter them individually to seek out offending content, so YouTube was forced to adopt an automated system in which viewers can flag videos. If flagged, the video is taken down, and the creator of the video is held responsible for making an appeal and proving themselves innocent.
The issue arises because the Kids Cartoons videos are being viewed primarily by kids, so no one is flagging them for inappropriate content, and they are slipping right through the system. The only way to resolve the issue on YouTube’s side would be a complete update of copyright law, which has been failing to keep up with the digital age in many other facets as well.
An easier, alternative solution would be for parents of young children to pay very close attention to what their children watch. Entertainment technology has made pacifying a bored child so easy for parents: just hand them an iPad and let them watch YouTube videos. Parents need to supervise young children as they watch videos from user-generated sites, or at the very least be in the same room and listen to the content. Not only will this help to protect young kids from disturbing content, but it will also cut off the revenue generated by these channels, effectively killing the trend.
Jack Comiskey // Senior Staff Writer
Graphic by: Julia Peralta