Last week, YouTuber Matt Watson released a video under his channel “MattsWhatItIs” that detailed a glitch in the algorithm which allowed users to gather and share videos of underage children in compromising positions.
The algorithm’s “glitch,” as called by Watson, exists due to the recommended videos which appear as recommended after watching certain videos. If a person creates a new profile and looks up promiscuous content created by or showing off women of age (in the video he begins the search by clicking on ‘ZAFUL BIKINI HAUL & TRY ON!!” and “Rating My Girlfriend’s Bikinis”). The combination of content and emojis bring a video titled, “gymnastics video,” the thumbnail clearly showing an underage girl stretching. From then on, the algorithm now had enough content to create a profile of an account, meaning that the suggested videos at the side fill with similar content.
The videos themselves are harmless, as they are young pre-teen girls recording themselves playing or behaving like children would — playing in the backyard, dancing in their room or participating in various viral trends. The problem lies in the comment section of said videos, in which commenters (almost all of which use burner accounts) leave sexual remarks and even timestamps of the girls in compromising positions.
On top of this, the videos are of mixed origin: some are posted by the original uploader, (in this case, it’s common to find the comments deleted, but the videos are still being recommended), but most are downloaded by another user and posted for other pedophiles. The videos that are downloaded will also have users who use the comment section to provide links to off-site child pornography.
While most of the videos taken from little girls are innocent, sometimes the children may be influenced by the pedophiles to act out certain fake “challenges” that are similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, but specifically focus on things that the ring can quickly turn sexual. These include the “popsicle challenge,” the “yoga challenge” and the “swimsuit challenge,” among others.
The problem lies in the comment section of said videos, in which commenters (almost all of which use burner accounts) leave sexual remarks.
The reason that this system exists is due to the fact that there is no automatic system in place which can search every video and discover these users. An average of 18,000 videos are created on YouTube every hour, and due to the discrete nature in which these users timestamp and link (often using a link shortener to hide the site’s true intentions), it is nearly impossible for YouTube to be able to sift through every video and discover which ones are innocent and which ones are sexual in nature.
This problem is compounded since YouTube automatically assigns adverts to videos and has no way to de-monetize them without a group of people manually watching every bit of content that is uploaded to the site. During Watson’s video, adverts begin appearing on about 10 percent of every video he searches. It’s interesting to note that any of the advertised videos also average 100,000 views and more, with one in particular reaching 1.4 million views. This means that the pedophiles were able to make money off of the videos that they were ripping from the girls.
By the time of writing, Watson’s video has garnered 2.5 million views on his video exposing this pedophilic practice, and as a result companies such as Disney, AT&T, Nestle and Fortnite are among the large scale companies that have discontinued advertising on the site.
However, this is in part due to Watson’s claim that YouTube has continued to do nothing about the rampant predators on the site. YouTube has asserted that the team has “disabled comments on tens of millions of videos … terminated over 400 channels for the comments they left on videos, and reported illegal comments to law enforcements” in response to a video made on the subject by YouTuber Philip DeFranco.
In fact, some have claimed that YouTube may have been overzealous in its approach, as prominent Pokémon Go YouTubers have had their channels deleted due to the term CP appearing in the title of their videos (while in Pokémon Go it stands for a Pokémon’s Combat Power, the algorithm assumed it was child pornography).
The assertion that YouTube continues to do nothing over these videos and support for hashtag #YouTubeWakeUp has led to controversy regarding Watson. In the two days following the release of his viral video, Watson had live streamed himself 5-times regarding the issue, averaging two and a half hours per livestream. During one of the videos, he chastised fellow YouTuber Daniel “Keemstar” Keem of the “DramaAlert” channel for not creating a video on the hashtag, as Keem had reservations over reporting the issue due to the last “ad apocalypse” where sponsors pulled advertisements in March of 2017 after it was found that ads were playing over videos with titles that contained the n-word.
In response to the criticism from Watson, Keem uncovered an old YouTube account where Watson recorded himself engaging in satirical “pranks” that involved mimicking pick-up artists. While the videos are an attempt to be comedic, the women recorded in the videos are real people not associated with Watson, and one video titled “A Cam girl ruined my life – HUGE WARNING” included a bit where Watson records himself sexually harassing what appears to be a young girl with a backpack, asking from his car if she would be “interested in shooting an adult video.”
Watson released a response video a day later claiming that his videos are satire. Meanwhile, YouTube is still working to take down these videos and pull their comment sections, while major companies continue to pull ads from the site.
Eric Ryan is a fifth-year student majoring in English. ER821804@wcupa.edu