YouTube's algorithm creates playlists of videos containing partially clothed children: report

YouTube's algorithm creates playlists of videos containing partially clothed children: report
© Getty

Researchers have discovered that YouTube's algorithm has lumped together videos of partially clothed children in recommended playlists, raising concerns about exposure to predators online.

The videos are often recommended to viewers after they watch sexually themed content, according to The New York Times

YouTube's automated recommendation system, which drives most of the views on the video-sharing site, gathers erotic videos with innocuous ones of girls as young as 5 or 6 in bathing suits or getting dressed, according to the report. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Jonas Kaiser, one of three researchers at Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society who discovered the pattern, said that while the site's algorithm does not aim to serve pedophiles, it does present "disturbingly on point" recommendations to keep them watching.

“It’s YouTube’s algorithm that connects these channels," Klein told the New York Times. “That’s the scary thing.”

The discovery is part of what Klein and fellow researchers described as the "rabbit hole effect": A video about a woman talking about sex leads to more sexually explicit content with younger and younger women, ultimately leading viewers to videos of partially clothed children playing, researchers explained. 

Christiane C., a mother from a Rio de Janeiro suburb, told the Times that she became concerned after an "innocent" video posted by her 10-year-old daughter while playing with a friend in a backyard pool was viewed nearly 400,000 times. The views-gathering experience, while exciting to her daughter, alarmed Christiane, who later learned that the video had been included in such playlists.

The New York Times withheld the family surname for privacy. 

“I’m really scared of it,” she told the New York Times. “Scared of the fact that a video like this fell into such a category.” 

She now says that she wants to forbid her daughter from publishing on YouTube in order to keep her safe.

YouTube's product director Jennifer O'Connor told The New York Times the company is committed to eradicating the exploitation of children. However, YouTube has not turned off its recommendation system on videos of children. 

YouTube said doing so would hurt its creators, according to The New York Times. 

In February, YouTube disabled comments on most videos that included children 12 and under.