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A pediatrician found suicide instructions in the middle of a YouTube video aimed at children
Dr. Free Hess, a pediatrician, child safety expert, and mom, made a horrifying discovery recently that will send chills down the spine of any parent. She found instructions for self-harm — nestled in the middle of what appears to be a kid-friendly YouTube video.
Get ready to feel completely ill.
Hess shared a video she took on her phone of the YouTube video, which has since been removed by the platform, where a man appears onscreen miming cutting motions on his forearm. “Remember kids, sideways for attention, longways for results,” he says, as he faux-slices against his arm. “End it.”
The few seconds of suicide instructions are in between clips of popular Nintendo game Splatoon. The man is a YouTube personality called Filthy Frank, aka, George Miller. It’s unknown if he was involved in placing the footage in the video. He has over 6 million followers on the platform.
According to WIVB CBS News, the clip has surfaced on YouTube twice since last July on both regular YouTube and YouTube Kids. Hess shared the video on her blog, PediMom, where she dispenses helpful advice for parents on child safety topics. “Looking at the comments, it had been up for a while, and people had even reported it eight months prior,” she tells CBS.
After Hess exposed the video on her blog, YouTube took it down. She tells CBS that last July, after she and a group of parents on Facebook reported it together, they got another version of the video taken down. It took one of the parents contacting an employee at Google directly before the action was taken.
The doctor tells CBS that she’s now on a mission to remove these types of videos from YouTube after seeing rising suicide rates in children at her own ER. In her aim to spread awareness, she’s reported several disturbing and inappropriate videos to YouTube, some of which have been removed. Hess says she recently found seven more and reported them, but that it’s only the beginning. “I had to stop, but I could have kept going,” she admits. “Once you start looking into it, things get darker and weirder. I don’t understand how it’s not getting caught.”
This trend is clearly terrifying on its face, but the fact that these types of videos are surfacing on YouTube Kids, the video platform aimed at children under eight, is beyond disturbing. It doesn’t stop with self-harm either. Hess says she’s posed as a child on YouTube to see exactly what our kids might be exposed to. What she found will make you want to break every tablet in your house over your knee.
She’s discovered other mentions of suicide instructions or self-harm, trafficking, sexual exploitation, abuse, gun violence, and more. YouTube tells CBS that they’re trying to remain vigilant in removing the harmful content. “We rely on both user flagging and smart detection technology to flag this content for our reviewers,” they said. “Every quarter we remove millions of videos and channels that violate our policies and we remove the majority of these videos before they have any views. We are always working to improve our systems and to remove violative content more quickly, which is why we report our progress in a quarterly report and give users a dashboard showing the status of videos they’ve flagged to us.”
After backlash about dangerous content on the platform in 2017, YouTube rolled out a new set of guidelines including ways to remove the harmful content faster and community guidelines for removing inappropriate comments.
They also have a new set of parental controls that debuted last year, but clearly, the issue of inappropriate clips popping up continues to persist.
As for what Hess would like YouTube to do? “I would like them to recognize the dangers associated with this for our children and to be taking parents’ concerns seriously and have a better process for removing these things when reported,” she tells BuzzFeed.
“It’s not happening fast enough, and it’s not taken seriously enough,” she says.
Aside from utilizing technology to keep on top of what our children are viewing, Hess has some advice that she shared on her blog. “We should start by educating ourselves, educating our children, and speaking up when we see something that is dangerous for our children,” she says. “We also need to fight to have the developers of social media platforms held responsible when they do not assure that age restrictions are followed and when they do not remove inappropriate and/or dangerous material when reported.”
She’s also started a new hashtag for parents to use to discuss the issue of dangerous content being available to kids online — and to mobilize and take action together.