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YouTube settlement is latest in struggles over ad content for children

San Francisco

A SETTLEMENT requiring Google-owned YouTube to pay US$170 million and change how they serve up ads on videos aimed at children marks the latest twist in a series of controversies over content for young audiences. Here are a few examples:

'Beloved bastards': "I think I can not call you + my beloved bastards anymore," popular YouTuber Philip DeFranco lamented to his millions of subscribers in late 2016, when Google moved to ensure that ads were paired with "friendly" content. He was told that one of his videos had been "demonetised" because he used insulting language.

Lost confidence: In early 2017, Google and YouTube were mired in controversy after a British newspaper pointed out that ads from major brands were paired with hateful content, including a video from Sweden's Felix Kjellberg, who posts under the name "PewDiePie." Major advertisers stepped back from YouTube, awaiting assurances that their marketing messages would not be associated with racial slurs and offensive videos.

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The scandal made clear that computer algorithms can fall short in taking into account how incendiary a video might be.

Unwelcome comments: In late 2017, YouTube removed tens of thousands of children's videos that included uncomfortable, inappropriate remarks in comments boxes and tried to stem the momentum of an ad boycott against YouTube.

"We have clear policies against videos and comments on YouTube that sexualise or exploit children and we apply them drastically every time we are alerted," YouTube said. Google said it has invested to better detect questionable content using artificial intelligence and human workers.

Forest fervour: At the end of December in 2018, star video-blogger Logan Paul posted a video of coming across a body in a Japanese forest where suicides were common.

Online critics pounced on him, decrying his actions in the video as insensitive and disrespectful. The video was viewed millions of times before it was removed.

'Paedophile' problems: In early 2019, a blogger raised an alarm after noticing people with seeming salacious interest in children were using comment boxes under YouTube videos to communicate and share.

The blogger believed the tactic allowed paedophiles to get around YouTube's ban on child pornography and network, with the algorithm even serving as a helpful tool as ads brought in money for video views.

YouTube, facing a new advertising boycott by big brands, took steps that included disabling comments on videos with children, removing accounts and videos and reporting illegal activity to the police. AFP