A Florida mom recently exposed a chilling discovery she made last July on the child-friendly video service YouTube Kids: a man teaching viewers how to slit their wrists and die by suicide.
The mom had been trying to distract her son from his nosebleed on the bathroom floor when she played “a simple, innocent cartoon” for him, she said on Free Hess’s parenting blog, PediMom. But four minutes and 44 seconds into the video, a man entered the frame and started speaking to young viewers.
“Remember kids, sideways for attention, longways for results,” the man said as he mimicked a wrist-slitting motion. “End it.”
This is a cartoon on @YouTube. At 4.44 secs a man is spliced in showing children how to properly slit their wrists. #thisisnotok #protectourkids #parentsdemandaction. Link to full video and to report in comments. pic.twitter.com/ur1xVpLoqR
— PediMom, Dr. Free N. Hess (@thepedimom) February 15, 2019
“What did I just see? Did I really just see that?” the mom said she thought in the aftermath. The man in the video was later identified as a popular internet personality who goes by the name Filthy Frank and has more than 6.2 million YouTube subscribers. Filthy Frank’s real name is allegedly George Miller; he is an actor and writer also known as Joji.
Miller’s fans have been known to edit him into videos, according to the Washington Post, so it’s unclear whether he or his followers were responsible for this particular clip. Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Miller for comment.
Hess told the Post that since that incident, she has made it her mission to identify inappropriate messaging in videos geared toward kids — and unfortunately she has found many more. Not only has the suicide clip been spliced into other videos, but she has discovered videos that depict human trafficking, school shootings, sexual exploitation and other forms of violence. She chronicles her findings on PediMom.
Hess, a pediatrician and mom, said she found seven disturbing videos in one day, all of which she reported to YouTube. “Once you start looking into it, things get darker and weirder. I don’t understand how it’s not getting caught,” she said. She said she even poses as a child when she searches for videos online so she can authentically see what kids are seeing.
“I think it’s extremely dangerous for our kids,” Hess told the Post about the Wild West-like nature of the internet. “I think our kids are facing a whole new world with social media and internet access. It’s changing the way they’re growing, and it’s changing the way they’re developing. I think videos like this put them at risk.”
Hess said that many kids she treats in the ER admit that YouTube videos taught them the “destructive behaviors and self-harm techniques” that landed them there.
She said the videos persist despite the fact that other parents have been reporting them to YouTube and the other sites that host them. “Looking at the comments, it had been up for a while,” she said of the suicide-themed video to CBS News. “People had even reported it eight months prior.”
Hess said she communicates with other concerned parents through Facebook groups.
“I am absolutely disgusted by this. Children can’t be children anymore,” one parent commented on Twitter.
— PediMom, Dr. Free N. Hess (@thepedimom) February 24, 2019
The parents have seen some victories, though. Hess told CBS News that the video featuring Filthy Frank was removed from YouTube for violating community guidelines shortly after her blog post went live, but others remain up. She said she’s baffled by the proliferation of these videos in a “safe place” like YouTube Kids.
“Unlike YouTube itself, YouTube Kids is supposed to be specifically FOR kids,” she said in a recent blog post. “There has to be a better way to assure this type of content is not being seen by our children.”
In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, a spokesperson for YouTube said:
“We work to ensure the videos in YouTube Kids are family-friendly and take feedback very seriously. We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it possible for anyone to flag a video. Flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed. We’ve also been investing in new controls for parents, including the ability to hand pick videos and channels in the app. We are making constant improvements to our systems and recognize there’s more work to do.”
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