By David Z. Morris
November 26, 2017

Several major advertisers have said they will suspend advertising campaigns on YouTube after their ads were found displayed with videos that had racked up millions of views by depicting children in threatening or compromising situations. Many of those viewing and commenting on the videos have been described as pedophiles.

Advertisers suspending their YouTube advertising including Mars Inc., Adidas and Diageo, maker of spirits including Tanqueray and Captain Morgan, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The videos were highlighted early last week in a BuzzFeed report which described a “vast, disturbing, and wildly popular universe of videos” that included live-action footage of children depicted in threatening situations or in bedclothes. YouTube responded by taking down many videos and announcing that it would enforce community guidelines more strictly.

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Then on Thursday, the Times of London reported that major brand advertisements were showing alongside similar videos, and that they had “attracted comments from hundreds of paedophiles,” explicitly linking advertisers to perhaps the most reviled behavior on Earth.

The implication that YouTube has been abetting pedophiles follows a string of revelations of disturbing content hiding in plain site on the Google-owned platform. Google has recently been pushed to remove content promoting extremist views and terrorism, after leaving such content unmonitored for years. YouTube was also recently pressured to remove disturbing content from its YouTube Kids platform, including cartoons of popular kids’ heroes engaged in bizarre and violent activities.

The situation reflects a larger challenge facing social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter. While the companies grew thanks in part to strong stances in favor of freedom of speech, the same policies attracted harassment, trolling and fringe content. Those behaviors have proven hard to stop using algorithms, suggesting that effectively policing these now-massive systems will require human labor on a large scale.

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