James Bridle is a writer and artist based London who has noticed that something is wrong on the internet. Well, there’s a lot wrong on the internet. But, more specifically, Birdle documents how algorithmically selected and, in many cases, produced content is taking over the internet. Most concerning, is that this content is what our young children are watching on YouTube.
Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.
Birdle admits that in most cases there isn’t anything egregiously wrong with many of the examples he uses. But aggregate effect is enormous. So big, in fact, that Birdle asserts this is a system of abuse in which Google is complicit. Essentially weaponized advertising with children as the target.
The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos – of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.
The examples are truly something to behold, with a 15-month-old at home I have been spared this insanity so far as we haven’t yet introduced her to screens. With this kind of content out there it might just stay that way. Just look at this exploitative garbage:
Toy Freaks is a hugely popular channel (68th on the platform) which features a father and his two daughters playing out €Š – €Šor in some cases perhaps originating €Š – €Šmany of the tropes we’ve identified so far, including “Bad Baby”, above. As well as nursery rhymes and learning colours, Toy Freaks specialises in gross-out situations, as well as activities which many, many viewers feel border on abuse and exploitation, if not cross the line entirely, including videos of the children vomiting and in pain.
The whole thing reminds me of a Tosh.0 segment from a few years back featuring SevenSuperGirls which is, as far as I can tell, essentially tween content targeted towards pedophilic men.
It gets weirder from there, more than worth the read, especially if you have kids at home.