INTERNATIONAL - YouTube has said it will block users from commenting on most videos that feature minors, responding to reports that paedophiles had used comments to find, track and exploit children.
The company said it intends to disable comments on videos including children between 13 and 18 if content risks attracting predatory behaviour.
YouTube, which is part of Google, said it would identify minors in videos using software. The new rules will take several months to implement, it added.
“We recognise that comments are a core part of the YouTube experience and how you connect with and grow your audience,” it said in a blog post. “At the same time, the important steps we’re sharing today are critical for keeping young people safe.”
YouTube’s move comes two weeks after a video blogger documented how the site had enabled what he called a “soft-core paedophile ring.” In many cases, apparent paedophiles took advantage of YouTube’s comments system, where they would post time stamps so others could skip to moments when kids are in compromising positions. Users who viewed videos of minors would be served additional videos featuring children through YouTube’s recommendation engine.
YouTube has long struggled to monitor and remove problematic content from its huge platform, on which users upload 400 hours of content every minute. In recent years, it has faced controversies over militant extremist content, hateful conspiratorial videos and violent, sexually suggestive clips that were reaching children.
A coalition of consumer and privacy groups filed a complaint last year with the Federal Trade Commission alleging YouTube is also violating that nation’s child privacy law by collecting data on children younger than 13.
YouTube’s parent company, Google, is a global leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning, but YouTube has had limited success in using these technologies to keep troubling content off of its platform. Experts in these technologies say they work well with some readily identifiable images, such as those of nude people or known terrorist symbols. But the technologies struggle with subtle or ambiguous situations, where the human capacity for understanding underlying context of images and words is crucial.
YouTube initially responded to the reports of the paedophilic ring last week by removing tens of millions of comments, along with more than 400 channels, on videos involving minors. The revelations quickly triggered a sharp backlash among major brands that advertise on YouTube, including Nestlé and Disney, which suspended their ad spending on the site.
Last week, YouTube said it accelerated its work on new software that could spot and remove predatory comments more effectively, adding it had terminated additional channels that put children at risk. The company said it would grant an exception to its new comment ban for a “small number of channels that actively moderate their comments and take additional steps to protect children”.
Deleting comments on some videos is a striking retreat for YouTube, which alone among Google properties has succeeded in building what amounts to a social media platform though its comments, bringing together like-minded users on a mass scale - something Google+ and other experiments failed to do. YouTube also managed to generate extra revenue with “Super Chat” that users pay to display prominently with live-streamed videos.
But comments have proven to be at least as troublesome to YouTube as its videos. In the December report, YouTube said it had removed 224 million comments in just three months last year.