Careful what you share

Careful what you share
(Shutterstock) YouTube takes steps to battle online predators.

Viral video exposes pedophilia problem

Kevin Barnett/Reporter

OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has become one of the giants in online media, making it possible for anyone with a camera and a computer to reach millions across the globe.

It is undeniable how the platform has changed the landscape of home entertainment and media, but to modify a familiar adage, ‘every silver lining has a cloud.’

In February, YouTube announced steps being taken to clear the platform of what has been described as a ‘pedophilia problem.’

The disturbing content was brought to light in mid-February when YouTube creator, Matt Watson, uploaded a video describing his discovery of a slew of sexually suggestive videos involving minors.

In his video, Watson asserts YouTube’s algorithms, which identify similar videos, were further propagating the “rabbit hole” of inappropriate content.

Alone, the videos are innocent. It was in the comment section that the disturbing activity/networking was taking place between online predators.

The activity identified included sexually charged comments, time stamps and links to private videos.

Time stamps, which are numeric codes used to label individual frames within a video, were being used to identify points [in the videos] that would interest predators, such as young girls bending over or moving in a manner that briefly exposed their underwear.

Although YouTube has protections in place to detect inappropriate comments, many of the offending posts used innocuous wording, non-English languages and emoji strings to work around these safeguards.

Shortly after Watson’s video was released, YouTube responded by disabling comments of tens of millions of videos, demonetizing videos of children and removing/reporting users making inappropriate comments.

Critics claim this has been a known problem since 2017 with the ‘ElsaGate’ phenomenon, in which videos with inappropriate themes were targeted at children, and that it was not until YouTube began losing ad revenue that action was taken.

Child advocacy groups suggest a common sense approach when sharing things online.

The Child Rescue Coalition, an organization devoted to protecting children from sexual exploitation, recommends parents ask themselves some questions before sharing images of their children online:

  1. Why am I sharing this?
  2. Would I want someone else to share an image like this of me?
  3. Would I want this image of my child viewed or downloaded by predators on the Dark Web?
  4. Is this something I want to be part of my child’s digital life?

“To a normal person and normal friends, photos on the beach that’s cute to us might be seen very differently by predators,” said CRC founder Carly Yoost in an interview with Good Morning America.

CRC also compiled a list of hashtags that could potentially be used by predators to find similar videos and pictures on other sites.

The list includes tags Yoost described as “especially dangerous” such as #modelingchild and #nakedchild.

She also warned of more common tags like #bathtimefun, #toddlerbikini and #pottytime, which she said can also be a temptation to online predators.

CRC and other advocacy groups say the best safeguard, short of not sharing, is to simply learn about the privacy settings on the different platforms and adjust them accordingly.

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