Keeping Your Child Safe on YouTube After Elsagate

young girl watching online video



If you are like most parents, you probably own an iPad that you frequently hand over to your young children to watch YouTube videos of their favorite characters and shows. But you also probably never dreamed that an innocent search for Elsa from Frozen could expose your child to creepy variations of their favorite character in lewd and disturbing situations with Spiderman.

As shocking as it sounds, these videos are popping up online at alarming rates, exposing young minds to disturbing content. In fact, it is happening so often that the term "Elsagate" has been coined.

What Is Elsagate?

Videos that are in the Elsagate category are not hard to identify. Typically, they feature Spiderman and Elsa together and are extremely low-budget videos without much structure or plot.

These videos feature unlicensed Disney characters behaving oddly, often with music from nursery rhymes playing in the background.

While some of the videos are live-action, others are animated. But overall, these videos offer no value, and yet have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Why Is It Happening?

There are several theories as to why these video creators are making such disturbing content, the first of which is a quick and easy way to make cash. After all, young children often randomly search for their favorite character, Elsa, while on YouTube Kids and then land on these videos. Even if they do not watch the entire video, the click or view helps to generate cash for the creator.

Another theory is that these videos are produced for a far more sinister reason. For instance, some good samaritans who have made a concerted effort to flag the inappropriate videos speculate that these videos are produced to highlight fetishes associated with pedophilia, especially since these videos often feature bondage, kidnapping, violent acts, and bodily functions.

In fact, in some of the videos, the Frozen sisters, Elsa and Anna, are shown with their clothes ripped off and being leered at by Spiderman and the Joker. This is a disturbing situation that can make children vulnerable.

There is no concrete evidence indicating the goal behind the videos. Regardless, these videos are not something parents would ever want their children watching.

How Is YouTube Responding?

YouTube executives have been slow to address the issue. It wasn't until major advertisers began complaining about YouTube's lack of attention to its content that the company began making a concerted effort to remove the content.

According to YouTube, the company is using a combination of human flaggers and machine learning to rid its site of content that does not meet its guidelines. In addition to the disturbing Elsa videos, YouTube is working hard to rid its site of videos containing pornography, extremism, and violence.

YouTube removed 8 million videos in 2017 and 6.7 million more videos were flagged for removal.

What's more, nearly 80% of machine-flagged videos were removed before they had even a single view. YouTube also has committed to hiring 10,000 people to review flagged videos and remove them from the site.

This is an important step because the makers of these videos, often referred to as YouTube Poop, have learned how to use tags, the code that helps Google categorize content, to fool the algorithm. By doing so, these disturbing videos are slipping past the filters and are made available to children using YouTube Kids.

Keep Your Kids Safe

Keeping your kids safe online involves a number of things. Which apps they use, parental controls, and flagging inappropriate content are all active things you can do to ensure your children's online space is safer.

Watch Apps Made for Kids

First of all, if you are going to allow your kids to use YouTube, it is important to know that YouTube has created a special channel just for kids ages four and older. This channel is known as YouTube Kids.

Although YouTube says the app is safe for kids four years old and older, in some cases it might be wise to wait until your child is a little older before allowing them to access the app due to the risk of unsavory content slipping through the app's filters.

Or, you can research other sites designed for kids.

Use Parental Controls

If you do allow your child to use YouTube kids, you should consider using their parental controls feature. With this feature, you can turn off your child's ability to search for videos, which reduces the risk that they will stumble across videos that fall into the Elsagate category. What's more, when you disable the search, you are able to limit videos to the ones that have been verified as age-appropriate by people on the YouTube Kids team.

To do this, select "trusted channels" and topics in the Collections section. You also can restrict the "recommended" channels to only ones that have been viewed and OK'ed by someone employed by YouTube. To access this setting, unlock the "grown-ups only" section. Then log into your Google account and select the profile you want to add the controls to.

Unfortunately, YouTube Kids does not offer content filters. But, if you want to have more control over what your kids are watching, you can customize exactly which videos your children see by creating an account with the "Approved Content Only" setting. With this setting, you have some say over which videos and channels your kids can view. And, if a video or channel pops up that you do not want your kids to watch, you can block it from the account.

Get Inappropriate Videos Removed

Although you cannot personally remove videos other people have uploaded, there is a reporting system in place to have YouTube review and remove content if it violates their guidelines or terms of service.

To do this, you simply click on the flagging tool that alerts the YouTube staff that you believe the video needs to be reviewed. A video that receives multiple flags, as many of the Elsagate videos did, will theoretically be reviewed more quickly than a video that only receives one flag.

Once the video has been reviewed, if it violates YouTube's guidelines, it will be removed. However, if it does not violate any guidelines, and people simply flag it because they do not like it, the video will not be removed regardless of how many times it has been flagged. As a result, do not use the flag option unless the video definitely violates YouTube's standards. Examples include videos that contain pornography, violence, and extremism.

If Kids See Inappropriate Content

When a young child stumbles across a video of their favorite characters behaving in ways that are confusing or scary to them, it can have a significant impact on them. For instance, it is extremely upsetting for a young child to see the characters they thought they knew and trusted behaving in inappropriate ways.

Here are some guidelines for working through the situation.

Stay Calm

Although it may alarm you out to see what your child just viewed, the key is to stay calm. If you lose your cool, your child will likely get even more upset. So, take a few deep breaths before bringing up the subject. You want to be able to express empathy and concern without being an alarmist.

Help Them Process What They Saw

Before you jump in and start telling your child how horrible the video is, start by asking how they feel about what they saw. Sometimes your child will simply be confused and you can use age-appropriate terms to explain what they saw. Other times, your child might be frightened and needs to be reassured.

If the impact they are experiencing seems outside of what you can help with, consider having your child talk with a counselor or therapist that can help them work through their feelings about what they witnessed.

The goal is to protect their future wellbeing.

Talk About What Is Normal and What Is Not

Regardless of a child's age, you need to make sure they are developing healthy views of relationships, love, and sex. While you will need to keep your discussion age-appropriate, it is important that kids know that some of things they view are not normal or loving.

Talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and then point out how violence and abuse are not part of a loving relationship.

Normalize Curiosity

Reassure your kids that it is normal to be curious, but YouTube videos are not the best choices for getting answers to their questions. Instead, encourage them to come to you with questions. And if they are older, talk about trustworthy sources of information. It is never too early to build media literacy skills.

Use This Opportunity to Talk About Online Safety

Any time something like this happens, it is an opportunity for both you and your children to grow and to learn. Use this unfortunate experience as a teaching moment and talk about what staying safe online looks like. You also can instruct your kids on how to handle situations like this should they happen again, and how to use electronics safely.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, exposure to inappropriate online content can happen at any time. Whether it occurs in your own home, at a friend's house, or on the playground with someone with a smartphone, it is bound to happen.

While prevention is the key to keeping these moments to a minimum, such as discussing how to click away from poor content and following online safety guidelines, these incidents can't always be prevented. When they happen, do not beat yourself up or become alarmed. Instead, approach the situation calmly and with open communication. Sure, this can be a scary experience for everyone, but you can get through it and come out wiser in the end.

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  1. Official YouTube Blog. More Information, Faster Removals, More People - An Update on What We're Doing to Enforce YouTube's Community Guidelines. Published April 23, 2018.