When YouTube launched in 2005, it was an exciting time for the still-wild west of the internet, and the platform created easy access for creative types and video makers on the forefront of what is now a multimillion dollar industry. But as great as YouTube is, there is always a dark side to platforms that have very little restriction and a whole lot of access. Very specific controversies surrounding some of YouTube's biggest stars like Logan Paul and PewDiePie have proven this. From questionable advertising policies, to users taking advantage of exploitative rules, to the whole Logan Paul debacle, and beyond — the waters are muddy in the world of YouTube. Who are most at risk? Children. Who uses the internet the most? Children.
YouTube has created an entirely new frontier of worry for parents around the globe, but it's a worry that perhaps isn't being taken seriously enough. It's easy to laugh off the conspiracies of exploiting children on the deep web, but you don't have to search too hard to literally find anything on YouTube.
The YouTube community guidelines talk about how strict the site is with sexually explicit, dangerous and hateful content, but how is that being monitored when 400 hours of content are uploaded every minute? Sure, 100% accuracy is hard to come by, but the worst things about YouTube are very worrying. YouTube has said it will a tougher stance against offensive content and exploitation of children, but is it too late?
YouTube user MattWhatItIs posted a video in February 2019 that reveals how easy it is for offenders to access videos of children on the site. Users are posting suggestive comments and time stamps of children in compromising positions. In 2017, hundreds of companies left their ad-partnerships with YouTube for similar reasons.
MattWhatItIs's video received over 2 million views and has garnered the attention of major brands which are featured alongside the harmful material. In response, companies like Nestlé, Epic Games, Disney, and others have stopped buying advertisements on the site, according to the New York Times.
Chi Hea Cho, a spokeswoman for Google - YouTube's parent company - said, "Any content - including comments - that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this... There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch [harm] more quickly."
She also said they deleted and turned off comments, as well as reported illegal behavior to the proper authorities.
In 2017, the Washington Post reported on the lengthy saga of the DaddyOFive YouTube pranks. In a series of videos, Heather and Mike Martin blamed their children for doing any number of annoying things, then film the kids' red-faced reactions. The parents later revealed to their kids that the whole thing was a prank. In one example, Heather and Mike spilled ink on the floor and got mad, blaming the kids. Of course, the parents had used trick ink, but it set the whole home in chaos. The parents clearly found the whole thing hilarious, but in the end the prank came off as extremely cruel. Another video saw Mike instructing his son to slap his daughter in the face.
The parents gained 750,000 followers on their YouTube channel, and the videos soon caught the attention of psychologists and concerned YouTubers who reported it to Child Protective Services. When all this went down, the parents claimed that the kids were willing participants and that nothing sinister was happening. They issued a public apology and went to family counseling, and YouTube removed most of their advertising. The most offensive videos have now also disappeared from YouTube.
At the end of 2017, YouTube star Logan Paul — who has over 15 million subscribers — visited a forest called Aokigahara in Japan, which is known as "suicide forest," and posted some footage of a what appeared to be a dead person hanging from a tree. The video (which has now been removed) was called "We found a dead body in the Japanese suicide forest." Paul had ventured into the forest for the purpose of finding something haunting, and he not only found it but exploited it. The video enraged everyone on the internet, because Paul was talking about a very sensitive and serious incident in a seemingly casual video. In particular, Japan has an extremely high rate of suicide which has even included chat rooms where young people meet up to talk about killing themselves and encourage each other to do so. It's something the Japanese government has been working to combat for some time, but certainly not something to trivialize, and not something to post online for any impressionable minds to see.
After the internet clamored against him, Logan Paul realized his error in judgment and released an apology video on YouTube, emphasizing that he didn't post the suicide video for views, he simply wanted to raise awareness about suicide. "I'm often reminded of how big a reach I have and with great power comes great responsibility," he said. "For the first time in my life I'm regretful to say I handled that power incorrectly. It won't happen again." According to a SocialBlade report, mere days after posting the video had garnered over 26 million views and put tens of thousands of dollars in Paul's pocket.
Unfortunately, this only serves to emphasis the fact that people on YouTube can get away with anything, then profit off it.