YouTube’s recommendations are leading young kids to videos about school shootings and other gun-related content, according to a new report, Engadget reported. According to the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit watchdog group, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is “pushing boys interested in video games to scenes of school shootings, instructions on how to use and modify weapons” and other gun-centric content.
The researchers behind the report set up four new YouTube accounts posing as two 9-year-old boys and two 14-year-old boys. All accounts watched playlists of content about popular video games, like Roblox, Lego Star Wars, and Grand Theft Auto. The researchers then tracked the accounts’ recommendations during a 30-day period last November.
“The study found that YouTube pushed content on shootings and weapons to all of the gamer accounts, but at a much higher volume to the users who clicked on the YouTube-recommended videos,” the TTP writes. “These videos included scenes depicting school shootings and other mass shooting events; graphic demonstrations of how much damage guns can inflict on a human body; and how-to guides for converting a handgun to a fully automatic weapon.”
In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson pointed to the YouTube Kids app and its in-app supervision tools, which “create a safer experience for tweens and teens” on its platform, Engadget reported.
“We welcome research on our recommendations, and we’re exploring more ways to bring in academic researchers to study out systems,” the spokesperson said. “But in reviewing this report’s methodology, it’s difficult for us to draw strong conclusions. For example, the study doesn’t provide context of how many overall videos were recommended to the test accounts, and also doesn’t give insight into how the test accounts were set up, including whether YouTube’s Supervised Experiences tools were applied.”
The Associated Press reported that the test accounts simulated two nine-year-olds who both liked video games. The accounts were identical, except that one clicked on the videos recommend by YouTube, and the other ignored the platform’s suggestions.
According to The Associated Press, the account that clicked on YouTube’s suggestions was soon flooded with graphic videos about school shootings, tactical gun training videos, and how-to instructions on making firearms fully automatic. One video features an elementary school-age girl wielding a handgun; another showed a shooter using a .50 caliber gun to fire on a dummy head filled with lifelike blood and brains. Many of the videos violate YouTube’s own policies against violent or gory content.
The Tech Transparency Project provided key points from its report:
- YouTube recommended hundreds of videos about guns and gun violence to accounts for boys interested in video games, according to a new study.
- Some of the recommended videos gave instructions on how to convert guns into automatic weapons or depicted school shootings.
- The gamer accounts that watched the YouTube-recommended videos got served a much higher volume of gun-and shooting-related content.
- Many of the videos violated YouTube’s own policies on firearms, violence, and child safety, and YouTube took no apparent steps to age-restrict them.
- YouTube also recommended a movie about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to minor accounts, the study found.
According to the report, between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30, YouTube pushed 382 real firearms videos to the nine-year-old engagement account – an average of more than 12 per day. The videos includes graphic demonstrations of what high-powered weapons can do to a human torso or human head. YouTube served far fewer weapons videos – 34 – to the gamer of the same age who did not watch the recommendations.
During the same 30-day period, the report stated, YouTube served 1,325 real firearms videos to the 14-year-old engagement account – an average of more than 44 per day. The videos features shooting scenes and “how-tos” for using or modifying firearms. By contrast, the 14-year-old account that did not click on the recommended content got 172 weapons videos.
In my opinion, parents who have children between the ages of 9 and 14 should take steps to prevent their children and teens from seeing a flood of weapon-related videos. YouTube recommends the YouTube Kids app, and its in-app supervision tools.