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YouTube Officially Bans Life-Threatening Pranks and Stunts, Like Tide Pod and Dangerous ‘Bird Box’ Challenges

YouTube has long had a policy banning harmful and dangerous content. But now it has explicitly told users that prank or challenge videos that could lead to death or serious physical injury are off-limits.

On Tuesday, the video platform issued an update explaining that the prohibition applies to challenges like the Tide Pod challenge, in which people have eaten the detergent, or the so-called “fire challenge,” in which someone is shown setting themselves aflame. The revised policy also comes after the #BirdBoxChallenge went viral, in which people emulate the characters in Netflix’s original movie “Bird Box” by performing tasks while wearing a blindfold — a trend that police said resulted in a Utah teenager crashing her car while blindfolded last week.

“Challenges that present an apparent risk of death are not allowed on YouTube,” the Google-owned video service says in an update to its guidelines on “harmful or dangerous content.” That ban extends to pranks that “lead victims to believe they are in physical danger or that can cause real physical harm,” like a home-invasion prank or one simulating a drive-by shooting.

In addition, YouTube specifically said content featuring a child participating in dangerous challenges “that pose an imminent risk of injury or bodily harm” as well as pranks that “may cause emotional distress to children” are not allowed.

Earlier this month, Netflix issued a warning about people engaging in the “Bird Box” challenge. “Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE,” Netflix wrote in a Jan. 2 tweet. “We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl” — the two children in Sandra Bullock’s care — “have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.”

A YouTube rep clarified that “Bird Box” challenges aren’t categorically banned on the platform, as long as the videos comply with the stated policy. According to YouTube, it did not fine-tune the policy on dangerous and harmful content in response to any specific challenge or trend. “We heard feedback from creators that we could provide some clarity on certain community guidelines, so we published additional materials detailing when a challenge becomes too dangerous for YouTube, and when the emotional harm caused by a prank crosses the line,” the spokesman said.

YouTube said violations of the ban on dangerous pranks and challenges will result in a “community strike” against a channel; accounts that receive three strikes in 90 days will be terminated under the policy. Over the next two months, challenges and pranks that violate YouTube’s community guidelines will be removed but the channel will not receive a strike. YouTube also said content posted prior to the policy update may be removed but channel owners will not receive a strike.

In issuing the updated guidance, YouTube noted that many challenges and pranks are perfectly OK, citing Jimmy Kimmel’s “Terrible Christmas Presents” prank or the water-bottle-flip challenge.

Also Tuesday, YouTube issued updates on two other guidelines, violations of which will result in strikes. First, custom thumbnail images must follow its overall community guidelines — which means that a thumbnail image that “egregiously violates policies,” such as with porn or graphic violence, is prohibited. Second, YouTube said external sites linked to from videos also must follow community guidelines, so links to sites with porn, malware or spam are likewise verboten.

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