- _SJP1857 / Wikimedia Commons
- Mars, Lidl, and Sky are among several advertisers which have suspended global advertising with Google after two investigations by the BBC and The Times found sexualised comments under videos of children.
- Volunteer moderators who flag inappropriate comments or suspected predator accounts told the publications they get little help from YouTube.
- The volunteers said they have no child protection training, and hand over data to the police.
- YouTube has taken measures to crack down on inappropriate content but acknowledged it has more to do.
YouTube is still failing to clean up inappropriate, sexualised comments left under videos featuring children, according to investigations by the BBC and The Times.
And a number of big brands including Mars, Lidl, Deutsche Bank, and Adidas have pulled their ads from YouTube and its parent firm Google after The Times found its ads running against videos featuring children, with predatory comments beneath. HP, Sky, and Diageo have also reportedly suspending advertising.
A Mars spokesman said: “”We are shocked and appalled to see that our adverts have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content. We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally. Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”
A Cadbury spokesperson said: “Whilst we investigate this matter we have suspended all advertising on the channel until we have clarity from YouTube on how this situation occurred and are satisfied that an acceptable solution has been put in place.”
A Lidl spokesman said: “It is completely unacceptable that this content is available to view and it is, therefore, clear that the strict policies which Google has assured us were in place to tackle offensive content are ineffective. We have suspended all of our YouTube advertising with immediate effect.”
A spokesperson for Adidas said: “We recognise that this situation is clearly unacceptable and have taken immediate action, working closely with Google on all necessary steps to prevent this from happening again.”
Deutsche Bank said: “We take this matter very seriously and suspended the advertising campaign as soon as we became aware of it.”
Predators left inappropriate comments under videos of children
YouTube reportedly relies on a handful of volunteers to clean up comments made by sexual predators – with one commenter encouraging a young YouTuber who posted a prank video of himself taking a cold shower to “try not to wear black boxers.”
Other predators apparently leave requests related to sexual fetishes under videos featuring children, though the videos themselves may be perfectly innocent in their subject matter.
The allegations were made by people who work for free to flag up inappropriate YouTube content, known as “trusted flaggers.” These people are not employed directly by YouTube, but have access to more tools to flag up comments or videos to YouTube’s teams.
According to flaggers speaking to the BBC and The Times, YouTube has given little support, instead leaving the volunteers to comb through thousands of inappropriate comments and hand them over to US police. The Times report claimed the flaggers had flagged 12,000 accounts belonging to suspected predators, but an estimated 50,000 remain on the service.
One flagged is quoted as saying: “It should not be our responsibility alone to investigate and liaise with law enforcement.
“YouTube’s teams should be the ones actively passing this through their established channels with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other law enforcement agencies to reduce this kind of illegal activity.”
According to the BBC, the online form where users can flag up inappropriate content appears to have a flaw too. The form apparently is missing associated links, meaning a YouTube staffer can see a report has been made, but has no idea which comment has been flagged up.
The timing could hardly be worse for YouTube, which held its annual Brandcast event for advertisers on Thursday evening in London.
And on Friday, big brands announced they were suspending advertising with Google.
The reports come just a day after YouTube claimed it was cleaning up its act around inappropriate content relating to children. The site said it would suspend comments left under videos featuring children if there were any signs of inappropriate commenting. It’s also clamping down on videos that appear to show the mistreatment of children.
YouTube sent the following statement to Business Insider:
“Content that endangers children is abhorrent and unacceptable to us. We have clear policies against videos and comments on YouTube which sexualise or exploit children and we enforce them aggressively whenever alerted to such content. We have recently toughened our approach to videos and comments featuring children which may not be illegal, but give cause for concern. In just the past week we’ve disabled comments on thousands of videos that we’ve identified as of potential interest to predators and shut down hundreds of accounts identified as making predatory comments. We are committed to getting this right and recognise we need to do more, both through machine learning and by increasing human and technical resources.”