Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
YouTube disables comments on millions of videos with minors, responding to charges that pedophiles are using comments on networks and sharing links. The move comes one week after Disney, Fortnite maker Epic Games and other companies drew their ads from YouTube.
YouTube says it has already disabled comments on "tens of millions of videos that can be exposed to predators" and that it will expand this effort in the coming months to include more videos that have young minors.
The company also plans to comment on videos with older minors if they are considered "at risk" to attract the attention of pedophiles.
Reflecting the difficult complexities of politicizing a fire extinguishing both content and comments, reaction to YouTube advertising varies from those who want it as a responsible change, and those who criticize it as heavy-handed – and possibly malicious innocent video creators.
YouTube's new commentary policy is the last answer to concerns that made headlines last week, when Matt Watson, a content creator on YouTube, posted a video accusing the service of "facilitating child sexual exploitation." Some of these videos were also served by ads, Watson said. He also accused the YouTube algorithm of earning new child-related videos for predators.
Watson's video concerned a number of reactions – from anger and disgust to predators to Questions on how the company should stop using the service. Within the community of YouTube creators, there were also warnings that advertisers flee and YouTube adopts a broad shift. It can lead to a new "Adpocalypse" similar to 2016 and 2017, when advertisers fled the service, and it went against content that included hate speech and extremism.
Firestorm was touched last week, after Watson described what he called "a wormhole in a soft core pedophile ring", where predators capsule commentary sections to mark video frames or recordings that can be seen as sexualizing children in otherwise innocent videos.
In some cases, pedophiles have shared links to child pornography. In others, they simply sent each other to videos showing that children performed gymnastics, ate or play with makeup. When they formed a shadow social media network, Watson said the predators even shared contact information with each other.
After Watson published the video on the issue, YouTube advertisers such as Disney, Nestle, AT & T and Hasbro paused their ad
It has led some creators to mark the "Adpocalypse 2" event – and they were expecting their anger on both YouTube for his approach and Watson for how he raised the problem.
"Your platform is very sophisticated when you predict what will hold an individual click and watch more videos," wrote Twitter user Tay Zonday in response to YouTube's statement . "It tracks more than 1000 data points on each person. The same AI can be distributed to reveal, cleanse, and report bad actors. Blaming content is crack and imperfect."
Others urged YouTube to track offenders and report them to the police. Critics have also said that the issues raised by Watson are those that YouTube and its communities have been working for years to address. And after Watson shouted out others for their sake, his own character has also been questioned.
Watson published his attack on YouTube on a relatively new account – but his critics soon found an older account where he had posted videos about picking up women, including a segment where he shouts out of a car window to a backpack-wearing girl or young woman on the pavement, "Hi. Interested in shooting an adult video?"
The videos were highlighted by Daniel Keem, also known as Keemstar, hosting the YouTube channel DramaAlert, who called them "very, very creepy." He also disagrees with Watson's claim to major marketers to pull ads from YouTube.
"If advertisers leave YouTube, this will not stop the pedos in the comments," Keem said in a video released last week. "This is just going to hurt the livelihoods of YouTube's big and small."
In response, Watson said the videos were from a "comedy channel" where he filmed the pranks public. And he accused Keem of trying to distract people from issues surrounding YouTube's comment and advertising policies.
"I'm cool with what I did," said Watson about his video on predators on YouTube, adding that he had achieved more than he expected.
When it announced its update on Thursday, YouTube said it had already removed millions of opposing comments and that it worked to create a new "classifier" to tag and remove the annoying comments.
"This rating does not affect revenue generation of your video", adds the service in the note to YouTube video players. And it said that the new tag will help it "detect and remove 2X more individual comments."