Innocent-looking YouTube videos expose kids to drugs and sex
YouTube has become the latest social media platform to be laced with predatory and child sexual abuse material, with parents warned about the increasing dangers to children online.
Inappropriate videos have infiltrated the popular YouTube kids app using beloved children's characters to expose young viewers to sex, drug use and violence.
Experts have dubbed the controversy as "ElsaGate", with child predators finding ways to manipulate algorithms on YouTube Kids to slip past parental controls and shock unwitting viewers.
Louise Edmonds' daughter was watching cartoon My Little Pony on a YouTube channel with more than two million subscribers before the video took a disturbing turn.
"She started with the original version that was on YouTube, and as the 'auto-play' came into action, a third-party animated video came up which was a 2D-style comic of the original version," Ms Edmonds said.
"The next thing I knew, my daughter was running away from the screen, saying, 'turn it off Mummy, turn it off'.
"I ran to the iPad and rewound the video, and what I saw and heard was one of the famed male My Little Pony cartoon characters, under the covers of a bed, masturbating."
Ms Edmonds reported the My Little Pony content several times to YouTube but was unsuccessful in having it removed.
She said parents were unaware that the porn and pedophile industries were targeting kids online as young as three years old.
Associate Professor of Criminology at UNSW, Michael Salter, said sexual "child" videos had been a problem on YouTube for years.
"It doesn't surprise me that people are integrating sexualised and bizarre themes into child-focused videos, because that type of content attracts large numbers of views," Dr Salter said.
"Social media platforms financially reward users who make popular videos, even when that content is amoral and harmful to children."
In 2019, more than 8000 reports were made to Australia's eSafety Commissioner about child sexual abuse material.
A recent report involved a YouTube account that was offering money to children to upload content of themselves with "no undies on". It was removed as a result.
Julie Inman, eSafety Commissioner, said online platforms had a "responsibility" to keep young people safe and should have safety features as an integral part of their design.
"But let me stress ... No parental control is as good as a parental presence," she said.
Commander of the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec urged parents to "remain vigilant" and report any "concerning material".
Originally published as How perverts are using YouTube to traumatise children