There’s a very ‘off’ feel to content massively consumed by kids on the Internet

There’s a very ‘off’ feel to content massively consumed by kids on the Internet
Video character Peppa Pig sobs in distress as a tooth is pulled - something that seems to recur constantly, in dozens of different videos of her weird life. (In the same video, she is attacked by a monster resembling a dinosaur, which wields a frightful circular saw attachment.) (Image: Screen grab of "Peppa Pig Crying at the Dentist Doctor Pull Teeth!" video, Kids Fun TV, YouTube)

[Ed. – This is an unusually long essay, but thoughtful, crammed with examples, and well worth the time. The author senses that children are being programmed in highly undesirable ways by their online experiences, if they are consuming large amounts of kid-oriented video content.  This point is important on its own.  But I also recommend reading his thoughts about algorithms, AI, and bots, and thinking really hard again about how OK you are with centralized computer management of a self-driving car scheme.  Emphasis original.]

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I’ve seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring. …

What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here; how to parse out the gap between human and machine. …

[T]here is something weird about a group of people endlessly acting out the implications of a combination of algorithmically generated keywords: “Halloween Finger Family & more Halloween Songs for Children | Kids Halloween Songs Collection”, “Australian Animals Finger Family Song | Finger Family Nursery Rhymes”, … and on and on and on. This is content production in the age of algorithmic discovery — even if you’re a human, you have to end up impersonating the machine. …

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Other channels do away with the human actors to create infinite reconfigurable versions of the same videos over and over again. …

I’m trying not to turn this essay into an endless list of examples, but it’s important to grasp how vast this system is, and how indeterminate its actions, process, and audience. …

Let’s look at just one video among the piles of kid videos, and try to parse out where it comes from. It’s important to stress that I didn’t set out to find this particular video: it appeared organically and highly ranked in a search for ‘finger family’ in an incognito browser window (i.e. it should not have been influenced by previous searches). This automation takes us to very, very strange places, and at this point the rabbithole is so deep that it’s impossible to know how such a thing came into being.

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