Parents are concerned about popular shows on the YouTube Kids app being reuploaded with a spliced-in clip of a man joking about how to cut yourself.
YouTube has had to remove at least two of these videos in the past year after parents discovered them while watching cartoons with their children.
The company most recently had to remove a reuploaded episode of an animated Splatoon-style cartoon in which a clip was inserted of former YouTube personality Filthy Frank's skit about self-harm. "Remember, kids, sideways for attention, longways for results. End it," he says in the clip while pantomiming cutting his arms. The clip was originally filmed in front of a green screen. The background was subsequently edited by the troll to make it appear as if Filthy Frank is in the cartoon world.
Most of these original Splatoon cartoon rack up millions of views on YouTube. While the user responsible for reuploading the edited versions of these cartoons remains unknown, YouTube told BuzzFeed News they've given them a strike and will terminate the channel if they continue to violate company policies.
Dr. Free Hess, a 43-year-old mother and pediatrician in Gainesville, Florida, told BuzzFeed News she was first made aware of these disturbing uploads in July 2018 when a friend who is also a mother showed her a video on the YouTube Kids app her child watched, which included the Filthy Frank clip. "This clip is compiled in with a bunch of ridiculously stupid and outrageously offensive stuff on a green screen," she said. Hess claimed that video had over 600,000 views before it was taken down.
Hess wrote a blog post about the video and incident to warn parents of what their children might be exposed to while not under their watch.
"Her son had watched this particular cartoon on various channels and YouTube Kids, and how often do parents watch the whole way through?" she told BuzzFeed News.
Hess said she and other parents repeatedly reported the video, and was not able to have the video pulled until she reached a direct contact at YouTube.
Filthy Frank, whose channel has over 6.2 million followers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On his YouTube page, the performer writes, "Filthy Frank is the embodiment of everything a person should not be. He is anti-PC, anti-social, and anti-couth." One of his videos saw him pretending to be a One Direction fan killing himself. He has not uploaded a new video in more than a year.
On Friday, Hess came across a recent reupload and recorded it with her phone. She claimed while the video was still up, she saw comments asking YouTube to remove it dating back months. It was finally taken down in the last few days.
Hess said she's certain there are more of these videos out there intended to target children with self-harm messages. She wants YouTube to be held "personally responsible" for removing them promptly before children are able to watch them.
"I would like them to recognize the dangers associated with this for our children [and] to be taking parents' concerns seriously and have a better process for removing these things when reported," she said.
"It’s not happening fast enough, and it’s not taken seriously enough," she added.
A YouTube spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company, which relies on users and automation to flag inappropriate content, "work[s] hard to ensure YouTube is not used to encourage dangerous behavior and we have strict policies that prohibit videos which promote self-harm."
"Every quarter we remove millions of videos and channels that violate our policies and we remove the majority of these videos before they have any views," the spokesperson said.