The online world is, in the grand scale of things, something that is a relatively new societal influencer. However, the speed at which it is evolving our lives is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, as I recently experienced with my 3 year-old daughter.
The Government is attempting to counter the threats that originate online, as are the corporations that look to profit from us. We are all aware of the risk of identity fraud, especially relating to our online banking services and online shopping facilities. We have all seen terrifying stories of children who have committed suicide as a result of online bullying. We all know that we have to be careful what websites and material our children are exposed to.
Most of us use the parental locks offered by internet security, or for example in the case of YouTube, the children’s version of the app or website. I try my best to limit the amount my daughter can use my phone, however, we all live very busy lives and letting your child watch an episode of Peppa Pig whilst you do the dishes sometimes feels like the only option, and why not, she is using the kids app.
It therefore shocked me to the core when a couple of weeks ago, as my daughter was watching an episode of Peppa Pig, I heard screaming coming from the phone speakers and what can only be described as a devil voice. I quickly checked what she was watching and saw what appeared to be, in terms of the animation and the title given to the video, a genuine Peppa Pig episode, but with Peppa and her friends stabbing a baby in the eyes and body with needles and Poppa Pig smoking drugs with red eyes and a needle in his arm.
I immediately explored the history of what my daughter had been watching and was shocked to find similar videos with titles like Humpty Dumpty. I reported it to YouTube straight away and within a few days the video had been removed, but the problem is that there is nothing to stop the person who loaded it in the first place from creating a new account and uploading the video again.
What is even more concerning as a parent is the way that YouTube connects video clips. It is great if, for example, you want to view funny cat videos and by conveniently pressing the “Next” button you get to see another funny cat video. However, I noticed that all the video clips that had been viewed by my daughter had been as a result of that “Next” button. I put on a genuine episode of Peppa Pig and when she pressed the “Next” button, YouTube Kids automatically connected the real thing with these shocking videos.
Considering that YouTube pays for every 10,000 views a video clip gets, the company really should be more careful. If it had a simple policy of reviewing every clip that reaches 10,000 views prior to paying the person who uploaded it, it would certainly stop any financial motivation.
All parents know how impressionable children are; they copy everything, it is after all how they learn. Now imagine if my daughter was at nursery and having seen it in a Peppa Pig episode, which she associates as being something good, she found something sharp and stabbed one of the babies. Not only that, but the negative impressions it is putting into her mind may have had lifelong consequences in terms of how her personality develops, how she dreams, how she knows happiness.
I implore every parent who reads this to be far more vigilant, careful and pro-active in overseeing what their children are doing online, even if you are only leaving them alone with it for a few minutes. It is not enough to think that parental controls and “kids” versions of websites and apps will do that job for us.