What's the deal with disturbing YouTube videos that look like they're for kids but are strange and upsetting?
Picture this: Your kid has settled in to watch what looks like a nice Peppa Pig video. The title of the video looked age-appropriate and your kid instantly recognized the familiar characters. But after a few minutes of normal play, the story goes horribly wrong. The characters start cursing, bleeding violently, or engaging in other disturbing acts. What's up with these strange videos that look like they're for kids but definitely are not? And why does YouTube show them to you?
Weird videos using familiar kids' TV characters are a thing on YouTube. They belong to a category of video called YouTube Poop (YTP). YTP is a mashup of familiar characters, images, and stories that go off the rails. People create them using video-editing software that lets them splice in clips from real shows. Though these videos deceive and scare people, that's not necessarily the creators' intention. More likely, they're trying to impress other fans of YTP (yes, they exist), mock kids' entertainment, and provoke YouTube by exposing weaknesses in the way the company serves up video content. The very fact that you clicked on the video sends data to YouTube that you like the video and want to see more in the same vein.
YouTube's algorithm came under fire when there was a public outcry over these disturbing videos showing up in the YouTube Kids app. In response, Google tightened up the restrictions on the videos it funnels to the YouTube Kids app. It also started requiring creators to designate their videos "for kids," so theoretically the weird ones intended for teens and older fans wouldn't display in your kid's feed. But while YouTube has some ways of verifying whether videos are really "for kids," the designation is the discretion of the creator, who may be willing to risk Google's consequences (such as suspension from the platform) to trick people. Google wants YouTube to remain a platform where users can express their creativity, and even though these videos are disturbing, they don't always violate YouTube's terms of service.
To reduce the risk of your kids seeing these disturbing videos, there are a few things you can do. In addition to using only the YouTube Kids app, you can use Restricted Mode, and remember to flag inappropriate videos, so YouTube won't show them to you.