There's a warning out right now for parents with young children watching videos on YouTube KIDS: Videos are slipping past parental controls that are giving your children a look at inappropriate content.
The issue has been nicknamed “Elsagate,” and Channel 11 wanted to learn more about what these videos are doing to children. The videos which start out innocently and feature popular cartoon characters, switch to violent and graphic scenes after a few minutes.
“It's violent, sexual, dirty bathroom humor,” said Alicia Kozakiewicz, a Pittsburgh native and internet child safety expert.
Kozakiewicz has worked for more than a decade to promote child safety online. At 13, she was lured away from her Pittsburgh home on New Year's Day in 2002. She was kidnaped, tortured and held for four days by a man she met on an online chatroom.
She says these videos are deeply disturbing and can desensitize children to violent or sexual content.
“It grooms them so when a predator does approach them, they now have these thoughts and behaviors in their head and they've been normalized,” Kozakiewicz told Channel 11.
What about parental controls on YouTube?
Parents may choose a harmless video, but it’s possible the next video in the queue has slipped past the filters and is anything but kid-friendly. Each following video gets even more and more deranged.
That's what mom Chrissy Campilio found out. She handed her daughter an iPad with the content restrictions set for preschool-age only.
“I thought, ‘What are you crying at?’" Campilio said. “I turned around and I saw adult hands with Peppa Pig toys, and they were chopping the heads off Peppa Pig. So that was it for me.”
Law enforcement officials all around the country say they are aware of this issue. Many people behind the videos live overseas. Unless a child is directly enticed, the behavior is not against the law.
“It is concerning, but there are a lot of concerning things that don't rise to the level of a crime at one moment,” said Det. Matthew Murphy of the Massachusetts State Police.
YouTube is also aware of the problem. In the last few months, they've permanently terminated 50 channels for endangering children. The company also removed advertising revenue for more than 3 million videos that target families by using known characters in misleading situations.
But as fast as these videos are taken down, new ones are uploaded. Parents can help by flagging videos with inappropriate content and monitoring online activity.
“Don't just let them sit for hours and hours and hours and watch YouTube,” Kozakiewicz said. “Pay attention, look over, see what they are doing and go through and see what videos they have played.”
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