YouTube’s child protection mechanism is breaking down

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, there’s a constant anxiety that those seeking to abuse or groom young children will use social media to reach them — and YouTube is aware of the problem. The video-sharing site has a special network of volunteers, called Trusted Flaggers, who help identify worrisome posts and comments on the network.

YoutubeYouTube’s child protection mechanism is breaking down, according to some of the company’s volunteer watchdogs.

This is coming barely a week after the Chief Executive Officer, Google International, Sundar Pitchai, stated in Nigeria that the company was putting up security measures on YouTube.

But now members of YouTube’s Trusted Flagger programme have told BBC Trending that the company has a huge backlog of reports, some months old, and that the company responds to only a small fraction of complaints from the public about child endangerment and suspected child grooming.

One volunteer says that he made more than 9,000 reports in December 2016 — and that none have been processed by the company.

A small group of Trusted Flaggers also grew suspicious about effectiveness of YouTube’s public reporting abuse page. Over a recent 60-day period, they used it to flag up hundreds of accounts which potentially violated the site’s guidelines.

However, out of a total of 526 reports, they received only 15 responses, and the volunteers say the survey is emblematic of a larger problem with lack of child protection on the site.

The reports were made against accounts, which leave potentially objectionable comments, mostly on videos made by young teenagers and children.

The videos themselves, according to the Trusted Flaggers and examples of which have been seen by Trending, are not pornographic in nature and do not contain nudity. Many are innocent videos of young people emulating their favourite YouTube stars by performing make-up tutorials and filming their “morning rituals”, or exercising, or just goofing around with friends.

The comments below the videos, however, are often sexually explicit. Some encourage the young YouTubers to make videos with fewer or no clothes, talk about their bodies, or simply make graphic sexual references. Some ask children to move to private chat apps or other, less public means of communication.

Trending previously reported on inappropriate comments on similar videos which sparked rumours of a huge “paedophile ring” operating on the site.

Those allegations of a large organisation or “ring”, spread by a few popular YouTube stars, were backed up by scant evidence. But the persistence of sexualised comments on videos made by young people has troubled several Trusted Flaggers who contacted BBC Trending and who believe the popular video-sharing site isn’t doing enough about potential sex offenders using the site.

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