I'm a mother of three adopted boys; I love all things computer science; and I'm a former teacher and administrator. Love wins.
This is a follow-up to the article 10 Channels Your Kids Are Watching on YouTube because you can be sure that if billions of people have access to a camera or video editing tools, and they have an effortless way to share that content with the world, there's going to be some weird stuff out there. I don't mean to say that these selections are all morally objectionable; some are just strange. But because they're all in the category of kids' videos, they can be easily accessed if you're innocently hovering in the realm of children's channels.
1. Finger Family Videos
The Finger Family song (or “Daddy Finger”) has been billed as a nursery rhyme, but no adult I’ve questioned remembers knowing this song as a child. Fandom says that the first video appeared in 2007, and this might have been when most of the world was introduced to the song. (Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments.) So if you don’t have kids, it’s possible you’re not familiar with the song:
“Daddy finger, Daddy finger – where are you? Here I am, Here I am, How do you do?
Mommy finger, Mommy finger – where are you? Here I am, Here I am, How do you do?”
There is a stanza for each of the five fingers.
The creepy part isn’t the song itself. It’s catchy, and there are plenty of normal videos available. No, the creepy part is some of the peculiar interpretations of the song that have surfaced on YouTube. Check out this example . . . just everything about it is bizarre. You’re welcome.
2. Johnny, Johnny
Similar to Finger Family, I’m not sure where this song came from . . . I don’t remember it at all when I was a kid. Many have speculated it’s Indian in origin, based on the original videos. But any child who’s watched YouTube for 5 minutes now knows this song well. What’s so terrible about this song isn’t a specific version necessarily, but the lyrics and really the whole idea. It goes like this:
A little boy breaks the rules by eating sugar. When he’s questioned about it by his parents, he lies, and finally, when he’s caught, he laughs in his parents’ face.
No contrition or remorse.
When did this type of behavior from a 5-year old become acceptable and even encouraged? Searching “Johnny, Johnny" on YouTube yields nearly 50,000 results.
There are many, many channels out there of varying quality that have capitalized on the SEO keywords Elsa and Spiderman (also Paw Patrol, Hulk, and others). There are too many to name specifically. Many are animated videos that go something like this: Spiderman and the Hulk are driving a bus that veers off a cliff into the water. They swim to the surface, then slide down a building into 100 soccer balls. Odd, but innocent. They’ve just compiled sequences of action that hold kids’ attention. You take a look at this example to get a better idea.
Another variation on this type of video is the Elsa/Joker/Spiderman videos that feature adults dressed up in costumes acting out short skits. These videos have millions of views. Here’s a typical plot: the Joker wants Elsa to eat some poisoned food, but Spider-Man foils his plans with a karate chop, and the Joker goes to sleep. There are plenty of benign videos of this nature around; this video, for instance, is nothing worse than amateur theater.
However, if you’re not yet woke, you do need to be aware of Elsagate. Elsagate is the name of the YouTube scandal where many videos with these popular keywords were uploaded, but buried in the video (and sometimes visible in the thumbnail) was inappropriate content, often of a violent, graphic, and/or sexual nature: for example, someone being graphically murdered, Spiderman and Elsa having a baby, etc.
The images were included for shock value because they would generate more clicks from children out of curiosity. Many of these videos originated from overseas. YouTube responded in 2017 with a policy change that refused to monetize such videos, as well as deleting thousands of channels and videos. Learn more about it here.
4. The Toy Freaks Channel
This was a very popular kids’ toy channel, with millions of subscribers, that was recently shut down, but I’m including it because some of the videos are still around, and there is also at least one spin-off channel, “The Granny Show.” Granny was a character who used to make guest appearances in the Toy Freak videos.
The original videos feature two young girls, Victoria and Annabelle; the dad (Greg Chism) who directed these videos was accused of intentionally putting the children in compromising positions to attract not only child viewers but deviant adult viewers as well. And according to the comments, the alleged goal was achieved.
If you’ve never seen these videos, several are pretty disturbing, and you'll get enough information to suggest this is probably not just a baseless accusation. Even the names of the videos and their hashtags, loaded with strategically selected keywords, are cringe-worthy (ex. “freakdaddy”). I saw several of these videos before they were removed, but I personally did not see the ones with the most controversial content. Still, the ones I did see were unsettling enough and showed the girls doing things that I wouldn’t allow my children to do repeatedly on camera for millions of viewers.
As I write this, if you search for the girls’ names on YouTube, a few of these videos will still come up, reposted by other people. I haven't seen all the ones that remained, so I can't say if they represent all of the original content.
People have debated the ethics of kids' channels in general, arguing whether it’s considered child exploitation when the parents make money by turning their child’s daily existence into The Truman Show. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with a channel like Ryan ToysReview any more than I would object to the phenomenon of Macaulay Culkin or Kid President. And what a family like that does with their money isn’t my business. But Toy Freaks might be a more clear example of child exploitation in the form of turning your children into online kiddy-bait. Anything for a click . . . welcome to the world of SEO porn.
So What Now?
If you want to prevent your kids from watching these or other creepy videos, you need to keep in mind that while you can enable parental controls on YouTube or use the YouTube Kids app, it might not be a foolproof solution because these types of videos are actually kids' videos. There's a chance they will circumvent the algorithms for objectionable content. You might consider using Video Blocker, a Chrome and/or Firefox extension, which allows you to flag specific videos or search terms and create a block list. Block listed videos will not show up in channels or results.