YouTube Kids’ Programming Is Not As Safe As We Think

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A person clearly can’t leave a toddler unattended on YouTube, because a kid using YouTube is always just a tap or two away from porn, horror movies, or songs you don’t want them to hear. (How does my kid keep managing to find Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”?) That’s why discovering the YouTube Kids app felt like a whole world opened up in front of me. YouTube Kids’ child-friendly filters meant that a kid could be handed the app and allowed to scroll around and select their own videos without coming across anything untoward. Unfortunately, it looks like even YouTube Kids might require more parental supervision than expected, because there are apparently some creepy videos out there masquerading as kids’ content and making it through the child filters.

The best thing about YouTube Kids was that a person could just toss an iPhone to a kid in long car trips, and the child could watch Bob the Train in the car seat while mom naps or drives the car. But The Outline’s Laura June points out that YouTube Kids has been infiltrated by  creepy knockoff versions of kids’ shows like Doc McStuffins and Peppa Pig, and now creepy zombie pigs are sneaking through the child-friendly filters to terrorize kids.

These videos seem to be made specifically to sneak through as real kids’ videos, and they include things like Peppa Pig being thrown in jail by a goblin, police officer pigs shooting vampire pigs with guns. One of them involves Spider-Man breaking Elsa’s arm. In the knockoff Doc McStuffins videos, kids turn into zombies and broken bones spray blood. It’s very disturbing. But it manages to slip through YouTube’s algorithms and trick the site, and the kids, into thinking it’s a real, kid-friendly episode of a popular kids’ show.

It’s a weird thing to do, too, because these aren’t really parody videos intended for adults. There are plenty of those. These are videos that seem to be designed to catch kids who are looking for actual episodes of Doc McStuffins and Peppa Pig, and show them badly animated horror shows instead. Kids don’t know the difference or that zombie Doc isn’t real Doc.

There are a couple things a person can do, though. In addition to flagging any such content so YouTube can delete it, you can also turn on “restricted mode,” which additionally filters out any content that has been flagged. Other than that, keep an eye out and be prepared to grab the phone if Doc McStuffins starts speaking in a strange voice or groaning, “Braaaaiiiins.”