Although YouTube has tightened its parental controls, there are still thousands of disturbing knockoff versions of popular cartoons easily accessible to kids.
My 11-year-old son spends a ton of time on YouTube Kids. And when I amble past his room to see what's making him laugh so hard, I'm always relieved to see a cute cartoon up on the screen. But not so fast. Because as one mom recently explained on The Outline, even though YouTube Kids supposedly rolled out more parental controls this past fall, there are still thousands of disturbing knockoff versions of popular cartoons like "Peppa" Pig and "Doc McStuffins" on there that are totally not suitable for children.
"The YouTube Kids app, by its own admission, does filter the videos to try to ensure it's kid friendly, but it does so in an automated fashion, meaning that things like faux 'Peppa Pig' sneak in quite easily," explained Laura June in her post. "It works pretty much exactly like you think: You search 'Peppa Pig,' and whatever videos are titled or tagged with 'Peppa Pig' come up. But parents still need to watch over their kids, especially once the app begins to 'suggest' other videos in the panel beneath whatever is being watched currently. Because what is suggested is often very bad."
In one faux Peppa clip for example, a dentist with a huge syringe appears and Peppa's teeth get pulled out while distressed crying is heard in the background.
In another, a scary vampire pig with long red claws steals Peppa's bag of M&M's, then a cop shows up and shoots him with a gun before throwing him in jail.
And in this crazy dark video, Peppa gets kidnapped by a giant green goblin and locked in a cage:
Scary stuff. I know I wouldn't want MY kids watching it! But weirdly, despite the creepy content, June says the videos actually appear to be MADE for kids—or at least in order to confuse them.
"This is not like a video of an animated Peppa Pig getting high with Snoop Dogg (that is also available) made for adults to laugh at," June wrote. "These videos are for kids, intentionally injected into the stream via confusing tags, for them to watch instead of legit episodes of beloved shows. Presumably made for ad revenue, they're just slightly twisted enough that any parent with eyes will be upset when they realize what their kid is seeing."
And it's not just "Peppa Pig." BBC has uncovered hundreds of similar videos of children's cartoon characters with inappropriate themes featuring characters from shows like "Doc McStuffins" and "Thomas the Tank Engine," and movies like Minions and Frozen.
Check out this one, where Elsa's arm gets broken by Spiderman.
So what's a concerned parent to do? YouTube told BBC it appreciates viewers bringing problematic content to its attention, and added that flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any that don't belong in the app are removed within hours. In fact, several of the channels BBC brought to its attention have already reportedly been removed.
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The company further suggested that parents use the YouTube Kids app exclusively, turn off the search feature, and turn on "restricted mode," which limits flagged content and can be found at the bottom of any page on the YouTube site. It does caution, however, that no filter is 100 percent accurate, which means you'll still want to keep an eye out for scary green goblins and dentists wielding syringes.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.