Fortnite, the online videogame worth more than seven billion dollars, is the latest to pull ads off YouTube amidst allegations that the video streaming service facilitates a community of pedophiles. Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Grammarly, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Metro: Exodus, Peloton, SingleMuslims.com, and others are also pulling their pre-roll ads from YouTube videos until the problem is fixed.
A YouTuber named Matt Watson was the first to expose this issue. He posted a video Monday saying he had discovered a “soft-core pedophile ring” on YouTube. (It’s unclear what separates the hardcore pedophile from the soft-core but it still sounds vaguely scary.) He claimed that in five clicks a user can go from normal content to videos of children berated by comments from pedophiles. The videos themselves are innocent whether it’s children doing gymnastics in the front yard, a parent filming their child being stretched by a doctor or a young girl explaining her morning routine and showing off her outfits. However, pedophiles use the comments section to flirt with these children, exchange contact info with other pedophiles, and time stamp parts of videos in which children were unknowingly in comprising positions.
Watson’s video went viral and currently has nearly 2 million views. Watson used this momentum to start the movement, #YouTubeWakeUp, calling users to reach out to advertisers on YouTube and inform them of the problem. Since then, some of YouTube’s biggest advertisers have left the platform, but many of them indicate they’d return should the problem be fixed.
This isn’t the first time YouTube has seen advertisers flee their platform. Back in February of 2017, the most followed creator on the site, Felix Kjellberg or PewDiePie posted a video, mocking the site, Fiverr, where users can pay $5 for random services. While testing the limits of the site, Kjellberg paid vendors to make videos with antisemitic sentiments. The video went viral after the Wall Street Journal wrote about it. Soon after, advertisers were abandoning YouTube, afraid their brands might be associated with offensive content. The phenomenon was nicknamed the “ad-pocalypse” by YouTubers who lost much of the income they once made making videos on the site.
Watson has been criticized for potentially causing another “ad-pocalyspse” unnecessarily. Daniel Keem or Keemstar makes videos on YouTube about celebrity gossip and the news, but said he wasn’t going to report on Watson’s video because he felt it “negatively affects the whole YouTube community.” Instead, he claims that he has been working with YouTube to solve the problem “behind the scenes.” He furthermore claims that YouTube is taking steps to solve the problem and that bringing anymore attention to the issue will only hurt creators’ incomes.
However, YouTube’s enforcement of community guidelines has been infamously unreliable. Days before Watson’s video premiered, several video creators were improperly flagged for child pornography. Yesterday, YouTube announced that it is making changes to their flagging systems effective Feb. 25th. It remains to be seen if the efforts will be enough to bring advertisers back.
Watson maintains that YouTube is not taking any real action and asks his followers to continue to expose the site.