Google’s awesome content moderation bots are at it again. After previously doing things like including suicide instructions in a children’s video and all Elsagate problem, YouTube now marks a horror video as “for kids.” Worst of all, it’s against the creator’s wishes. The video was previously flagged as 18+ and YouTube decided it was for children and would not allow the creator to restore their content rating.
The video in question is from a horror series Local58TV. the creator, Chris Straub, checked his account over the weekend to find that his non-kid content had been spotted by YouTube’s content moderation AI and automatically flagged for kids.
congratulations @youtube on the automatic determination decision @LOCAL58TVthe “children’s show” as FOR KIDS, even though I marked it as not suitable for children. i also can’t change it voluntarily without *appeal* pic.twitter.com/dnhmzL9hbi
— Chris Straub (@krisstraub) July 5, 2022
“For kids” in this context means that Google has marked the video for inclusion in the “YouTube Kids” app, which is a separate interface for YouTube that should only show a “safe” curated snippet of YouTube. The “Kids” flag also means that the video is forced to comply with the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), so comments are disabled.
Local58TV has millions of views on its nine videos and is famous enough to have Wikipedia page. On the channel about the page describes itself as “ANALOGUE HORROR ON 476 MHz. Disturbing found footage shorts/VHS aesthetic by Chris Straub.” The channel’s most popular video, “Unexpected circumstances,” is a fake public service release from the “US Department of American Dignity.” The message, set to ultra-creepy transmission The Star flag, declared that America had lost the war and was forced to surrender. Before the occupiers arrive, you can “take America with you” by killing/suicide your family. The video continues with instructions. This is clearly not the type of channel that is for kids!
YouTube doesn’t get the Local58TV vibe though. It automatically flags an episode titled “A show for kids” as for children. You can see how an AI bot can cut its cords from this title, but immediately says “Not for children” in the description, and the creator Straub originally set the age rating of the video as “18+ ” when was uploaded.
The episode is a black and white cartoon in which a cute cartoon skeleton wanders through a graveyard looking for a cute cartoon skeleton of a girlfriend, only to find horrifying, more realistic skeletons and other creatures in the open graves. At the end of the video, seemingly out of depression, the cute skeleton lays down in a grave and dies, turning into a realistic skeleton. Caricature is something an AI bot might not understand, but a human can immediately tell that a disturbing video is not suitable for children. YouTube certainly isn’t hurting for money, making $28.8 billion in revenue last year, but it doesn’t employ a significant number of human moderators.
Not only does YouTube mark a video explicitly marked as “not suitable for children” as “made for children”, but it also prevents the creator from changing it back. The video’s content has now been flagged as “Made for Children (set by YouTube)” and Straub has been forced to file a complaint with YouTube to have the video’s age rating adjusted.
Even if you use bots to moderate it, it doesn’t make sense for YouTube to be in this position. For every video upload, YouTube asks whether the video is suitable for children or not. Since YouTube already has this data, it’s not clear why it would ever try to automatically categorize videos, especially by lowering an age rating that is explicitly set as “adults only.” For something as sensitive and subjective as whether certain content should be viewed by a child, it seems like Google should err on the side of caution.
At press time, Straub went public with the issue 8 p.m. ago and it has not been resolved. The YouTube Team Twitter account said it was “reviewing” the complaint nine hours ago. You can tell the video is still flagged for kids because of the disabled comments section and the “Try YouTube Kids!” ad at the bottom. Also, you only get suggestions for other “kids” content that doesn’t seem to involve as much death as the usual Local58TV content.