YouTube said it will disable the ability for viewers to leave comments on most videos featuring minors, as it tries to contain the damage from a scandal involving child predators leaving coded sexual comments on the site.
YouTube said in a blog post Thursday that over the past week it had already shut off comments for “tens of millions of videos” that could be subject to predatory behavior. Now, it will expand that to suspend comments on virtually all videos featuring young minors, as well as videos featuring older kids that “could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior.”
In a tweet, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki linked to the update and explained the change: “Recently, there have been some deeply concerning incidents regarding child safety on YouTube. Nothing is more important to us than ensuring the safety of young people on the platform.”
According to YouTube, a “small number of creators” with videos featuring children will be able to keep comments enabled. However, YouTube said, it will require those channels to actively moderate their comments and “demonstrate a low risk of predatory behavior.”
The problem was exposed last week by vlogger Matt Watson, who discovered that YouTube’s algorithms enabled child predators to secretly connect across a series of videos with young girls engaged in everyday activities like gymnastics, stretching or simply hanging out at home. As documented in his Feb. 17 video, members of what Watson called a “soft-core pedophilia ring” made sexualized comments about the girls tagged with timestamps identifying moments when the kids were in certain poses.
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In addition to disabling comments on videos with kids, YouTube said it is developing an “even more effective classifier” designed to better identify and remove child-predator comments. The new system is “more sweeping in scope” than YouTube’s previous comment-scanning tool and will detect and remove twice as many individual comments, according to YouTube.
YouTube also reiterated that it had terminated certain channels for predatory behavior. “We will continue to take action when creators violate our policies in ways that blatantly harm the broader user and creator community,” the video service said.
Separately, YouTube was in the headlines this week over a bizarre viral hoax that had parents and police in a panic over nonexistent “Momo Challenge” videos that supposedly urged kids to kill themselves. Inaccurate news reports and social-media posts, including comments from Kim Kardashian, cited the alleged spread of the Momo challenge on YouTube, featuring images of a creepy woman-bird sculpture created by a Japanese artist for a VFX company. On Wednesday, Twitter said in a statement on Twitter that it has “seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube,” and reiterated that videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against its policies.