The nightmare videos of childrens' YouTube — and what's wrong with the internet today | James Bridle | Summary and Q&A

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July 13, 2018
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TED
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The nightmare videos of childrens' YouTube — and what's wrong with the internet today | James Bridle

TL;DR

In this talk, James Bridle discusses the disturbing and exploitative nature of children's content on YouTube and raises concerns about the ethical implications of automated systems and the concentration of power in technology.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What kind of work does James do?

James is a writer and artist who creates work about technology. He draws life-size outlines of military drones in city streets and makes neural networks that predict election results based on weather reports. He has also built his own self-driving car.

Q: Who is James's audience?

James's audience is children, particularly small children. He mentions that videos like the "surprise egg" videos and the "Finger Family Song" are like crack for little kids, and they watch these videos repeatedly for hours.

Q: What is the impact of these videos on children?

Children watch these videos over and over again, becoming addicted to the repetition and the constant dopamine hit of the reveal. They can become traumatized by the violent or sexual content, and parents have reported their children becoming afraid of the dark and their favorite cartoon characters.

Q: How is the YouTube algorithm contributing to this issue?

The YouTube algorithm is being used to hack the brains of very small children in exchange for advertising revenue. The algorithm recommends these videos to children, and creators stuff the titles of their videos with popular terms to increase their views. This leads to a mash of language that doesn't make sense to humans but caters to the algorithm.

Summary

In this talk, James Bridle discusses the dark side of YouTube and its impact on young children. He explores the addictive nature of surprise egg videos and the algorithm-driven culture that encourages the creation of bizarre and often inappropriate content for kids. Bridle raises concerns about the lack of understanding and accountability in the systems that drive this content, emphasizing the need for transparency and user education. He argues that technology should be a tool for identifying and addressing societal problems, rather than a solution in itself.

Questions & Answers

Q: What kind of content is popular on YouTube for young children?

One type of popular content on YouTube for young children is surprise egg videos. These videos feature someone opening chocolate eggs and revealing the toys inside. They are highly addictive to kids due to the repetitive nature and the dopamine hit they provide. Other popular videos include cartoons like "Peppa Pig" and "Paw Patrol," although many of these are not posted by the original content creators.

Q: How are these videos able to gain millions of views?

These videos gain views through the use of algorithm optimization and popular keywords. Creators stuff their video titles with words and phrases from other popular videos to attract views. The goal is to target the algorithms and make the videos recommended to viewers. However, the content, both in titles and actual video content, often becomes a meaningless mash of words that don't make sense to humans but appeal to the algorithms.

Q: Who is making these videos and what are their motives?

The origin of these videos is often unknown. Some appear to be made by professional animators, while others seem randomly assembled by software. There are wholesome-looking young kids' entertainers as well as people who clearly shouldn't be around children. The motives behind these videos are unclear, but advertising revenue seems to be a driving factor. However, there are easier ways to make money on YouTube, so the true intentions remain uncertain.

Q: How does YouTube's algorithm contribute to the proliferation of this bizarre content?

The YouTube algorithm is responsible for selecting and recommending videos based on similarities and popularity. Creators manipulate the algorithm by using popular keywords and tags to increase their chances of becoming recommended. This often leads to a nonsensical mashup of content and titles. The focus is not on human viewers, but on the algorithms and their response to the videos. This algorithmic optimization results in a culture that values views and ad revenue over meaningful content.

Q: What are the negative effects of this content on young children?

Small children become addicted to watching these videos due to the repetitive nature and the anticipation of the reveal. They watch them for hours on end and become upset when the screen is taken away. Furthermore, there is disturbing and violent content that can traumatize children. Some videos feature children's cartoons being assaulted or killed, and others involve terrifying pranks that genuinely frighten kids. This exposure can lead to fear, nightmares, and a distorted perception of their favorite characters.

Q: How is this issue of inappropriate content on YouTube similar to other problems in our digital services?

The problem of not knowing where content is coming from and the inability to discern sources is a common issue across various digital services. Just as fake news spreads and influences people's views, children's YouTube videos can be seen as fake news for kids. Kids are being trained to click on the first link without considering the source. This lack of critical thinking and discernment is a dangerous trend being perpetuated by these systems.

Q: How does advertising and automation contribute to this problem?

Advertising plays a significant role in monetizing attention on YouTube. Videos are created to generate views and revenue, regardless of the content's quality or appropriateness. The centralization of power and the focus on ad revenue distort the quality and purpose of the content being produced. Additionally, automation is responsible for the deployment of technology without sufficient oversight. It allows systems to continue running without taking responsibility for the consequences. This lack of accountability can lead to harmful and exploitative content.

Q: Can AI and machine learning algorithms help moderate and address these issues?

While AI and machine learning have been promoted as tools for content moderation, they are not reliable solutions. Machine learning is often referred to as software that we don't fully understand. Relying on AI for content moderation can lead to further censorship and the suppression of legitimate speech. Instead, addressing these issues requires open discussions involving all stakeholders and making the systems more understandable and transparent to users.

Q: Whose responsibility is it to educate users about digital literacy?

The responsibility for digital literacy and education in this new world falls on all of us. It is not just the users' burden to understand and navigate these complex systems. Education and awareness should be integrated into the development process as creators and tech companies have a responsibility to ensure user understanding and safety. Building systems that trick and manipulate users is not the way forward. Society as a whole needs to be involved in the discussion and development of these technologies.

Q: What is the larger issue that YouTube's problems represent?

The problems highlighted by YouTube's content issues are not limited to the platform itself. They are reflective of larger issues involving accountability, power concentration, and the impact of technology on society. This is not just about YouTube or technology; it's about our entire world. The internet has exposed and magnified these issues, making them impossible to ignore. It's crucial to see technology as a tool for identifying problems rather than a solution itself, in order to address the deeper societal issues at play.

Takeaways

James Bridle's talk sheds light on the dark side of YouTube, particularly in relation to inappropriate content targeted at young children. The addictive nature of surprise egg videos and the algorithm-driven culture that encourages bizarre content creation raise concerns about transparency, accountability, and user education. Bridle emphasizes the need to understand and address the problems inherent in modern technology systems. He calls for a collective effort to make these systems more legible, promote digital literacy, and critically examine the impact of technology on society as a whole.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker, James, is a writer and artist who creates work about technology, exploring topics such as military drones and neural networks.

  • He discusses the popularity and addictive nature of certain YouTube videos, such as "surprise egg" videos and the "Finger Family Song," among young children.

  • James highlights the dangers of algorithm-driven systems and the unintended consequences of automation, emphasizing the need for greater accountability and understanding of technology's impact on society.

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