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Peppa Pig's tale of torture? Why parents can't rely on platforms like YouTube Kids for child-friendly fare

Peppa Pig's tale of torture? Why parents can't rely on platforms like YouTube Kids for child-friendly fare
From CBC - November 22, 2017

Platforms like Netflix and YouTube Kids can seem like the ideal digital daycare for busy parents who appreciate the educational and age-appropriate offerings as a way to keep their kids entertained and engaged while they try to manage other parts of their hectic lives.

But as disturbing content starts slipping through the cracks of the "kid-friendly" filters, parents and experts are questioning just how much we can rely on these algorithmic black box babysitters.

Recently, the New York Times published anarticleabout "startling videos" slipping past YouTube's filters.

The piece shed light on worrisome content appearing in child-safe searches, including creepy knock-offs of Nickelodeon's PAW Patrol, a preschooler-aimed program about a group of problem-solving pound puppies.

The disturbing remixes include altered storylines involving demons, death and car crashes. Theycan be troublingfor young viewers who likely stumble across the videos unknowingly as they consume a string of clips curated by the platform's algorithms.

"Young children are often frightened by sudden changes and transformations, and so may be particularly upset when characters they know and trust are portrayed in disturbing situations,"saysMatthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit organization that focuses on media literacy programs.

PAW Patrol is not the only kids' content being corrupted this way.

In a viralblog post, writer James Bridle drew attention to the equally twisted and unnerving versions of popular children's shows includingPeppa Pig, in which deviant storylines repurpose the cheery, kid-friendly originals with gore,such as the episode in which Peppa's trip to the dentist turns into a tale of torture.

Because these altered videos are interspersed among thousands of originals and more innocuous replicas, parents are, by and large, unaware of their existence when they sit their kids in front of the screen.

Peppa eats her dad

As Bridle notes, a search for "Peppa Pig dentist" returns the torture "remix" on the front page of search results, right beside the program's verified channel.

And the scary dentist episode is just the tip of the iceberg. These videos are widespread, with other examples including one in whichPeppa eats her fatherand another that involvesdrinking bleach.

YouTube hastaken steps to add more moderationfollowing the publicity.

According to YouTube, it takes a few days for content to migrate from the main YouTube platform to YouTube Kids. Their hope is that within that timeframe, users will flag content that is potentially disturbing to children.

In addition to filtering out inappropriate content, flagged content will now be age-restricted so that users ca not see flagged videos if they are not logged in on accounts registered to users 18 years or older.

But YouTube's approach relies heavily on users flagging the inappropriate content.

"No system is ever going to be foolproof," says Johnson.

He adds that while YouTube's added moderation is an improvement, it's not a perfect solution.

YouTube is not the only provider of kids' programming vulnerable to algorithmic flaws.

Just last week, parents started noticing adult content popping up in Netflix's child-friendly search results.

And while the platform's design avoids the pitfall of knock-off content like the remixes of PAW Patrol or Peppa Pig plaguing YouTube, the adult-oriented content is no less disturbing to parents.

'We all saw it together'

Digital babysitter

Not much accountability

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