After news broke that pedophiles were using time codes in comments to tag “sexually suggested” content in family friendly videos on YouTube, I kept a close watch on my only video with young children in a musical performance at a public event that had previously attracted the wrong kind of audience six months earlier.
After I saw the initial traffic spike for the video while watching the real time analytics for my channel at 5:30PM on Friday, February 22, 2019, I disabled the comment section for that video as a precaution.
I went to the tech news website that my dedicated band of trolls called home and located the video URL in an anonymous comment for an article about YouTube’s latest child safety problem. Readers were asked to report me as a pedophile because a little boy had his “peewee” hanging out at a specified time code in the video.
The video shows a little boy with his hands over the front of his t-shirt and the waistband of his shorts while running around.
One comment called the anonymous comment a perfect example of the nonsense that the YouTube community is struggling with. Another comment told the troll to get psychiatric help.
After I sent an email to the CEO of the tech news website at 5:45PM, the entire thread got deleted 15 minutes later. The traffic spike ended with 14 new views for the video. Each view represents a person who wanted to see a little boy with his “peewee” handing out, either out of curiosity that such content exist or hopeful that such content was real.
My friend and I spent an hour walking Castro Street from the Caltrain station to the El Camino Real, exploring one side of the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival in September 2018.
We came upon the Facebook Community Stage and Kids’ Park for little people who weren’t interested in buying wines, arts or craft items. Empty white chairs in the cool shade of a large oak tree beckoned us to rest our tired feet.
Our timing was great. According to the stage schedule, Liz DeRoche, a.k.a., The Singing Lizard, started in five minutes. A woman was on stage with her laptop, electronic keyboard, and a collection of musical instruments for young children to play.
I pulled out my iPhone 6S to record a video for YouTube.
Earlier I recorded The Cocktail Monkeys performing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who at the main stage. The PA system had the volume set to infinity and beyond, overpowering the audience with raw volume and distorting the music.
Later I would record Busta-Groove! performing four songs, “September,” “Let’s Groove Tonight,” “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground,” and “Blurred Lines,” in a 15-minute set at the main stage. This band spent 30 minutes checking out their instruments and re-adjusting the PA system to make their music sound perfect.
Out of the three videos that I posted from the festival, Busta-Grove was my personal favorite that I expected to be popular on my channel.
I was mindful of YouTube’s policy regarding minors in videos when I started recording my video.
Elsagate had videos of adults and children dressed up in popular children characters, such as Elsa from Disney’s Frozen or Spider-Man from Marvel Comics, behaving in adult situations or performing dangerous pranks. Some of these “family friendly” videos showed up on YouTube Kids to reach a broader audience. After the mainstream media reported the story, advertisers pulled their ads and ran for the exits.
YouTube reacted by removing ads from 2 million videos and 50,000 channels, terminating 150 channels and removing 150,000 videos, and disabling comments for 625,000 videos targeted by pedophiles.
FamilyOFive had videos of parents with their five children from previous marriages performing pranks that were borderline child abuse. After Philip DeFranco highlighted the channel on his news show several times, children protective services investigated the family and the parents pleaded guilty to two charges of child neglect in a court of law.
The channel was subsequently deleted after the parents made new videos that violated the terms of their probation. The parents tried several comeback attempts on YouTube and hosted videos behind a paywall on a private website without much success.
YouTube reacted to FamilyOFive with more nuance than Elsagate because the former was exposed by the community and not the mainstream media, so no advertisers were pulling their ads and running for the exits. A requirement to obey local and state child labor laws was added to the best practices for content with children policy.
For my video that meant keeping the camera focused on what was happening on the stage. When parents and kids started dancing in front of the stage, I shifted the camera up and zoomed in on the stage.
After I posted The Singing Lizard video on my channel, I had no expectations that it would get views and watch time. The “singing lizard” as a search term on YouTube brings up videos of a cartoon frog or lizard, real lizards or parakeets, or a kid in a dinosaur outfit singing some kind of song. The Singing Lizard with Liz DeRoche didn’t have a much of an audience.
Cover bands like The Cocktail Monkeys and Busta-Groove! that perform all over the San Francisco Bay Area do much better on my channel. Each band had a dedicated audience, band name and song titles were searchable terms, and cover bands for old songs are always popular on YouTube.
My most popular video is the Southern California cover band, The Rayford Bros., performing Johnny B. Goode while dressed up as Batman, Robin and Riddler at the Heroes & Villains FanFest 2016 in San Jose, CA. When that video hit 5,000 views last year, the record label did a manual copyright claim for all the ad revenue while leaving my video up. Since I don’t qualify for monetization, there was no ad revenue to surrender.
And then my dedicated band of trolls at the tech news website took notice of The Singing Lizard video.
An anonymous comment on the tech news website speculated that the video was shaky because I was masturbating in public with one hand while holding the camera in the other hand.
Masturbating in public would have been awkward. My friend sat next to me. A little old lady sat in front of me. A ton of parents and kids were nearby. Most of the Mountain View Police Department was just around the corner. And I was holding my iPhone with both hands while recording the video.
The comment didn’t surprise me.
My dedicated band of trolls have been trying to discredit me for years. Mostly because I was the proverbial fat kid on the short bus (I was misdiagnosed as mentally retarded due to a undiagnosed hearing loss in one ear). My trolls are the proverbial jocks who have to me in my place. I didn’t put up with that crap in real life, I didn’t put up with that crap on the tech news website.
What did surprise me was that one video getting a three-day traffic spike with 600 views and 24 hours of watch time from four countries — Ukraine, Brazil, Colombia, and India — known for sex tourism and/or trafficking.
The top countries for my channel are typically the United States (90%), Canada (7%), United Kingdom (2%), and the rest of the world (1%). That traffic spike was so far out the norm for my channel that I reached out to Team YouTube on Twitter, opened a support ticket, and found out 90 days later that the engineer found nothing suspicious with the traffic spike. No matter how alarming the data appears to me, the views and watch time were legit as far as the algorithm was concerned.
A troll took credit for posting my video URL on the dark web.
The same troll who plastered my personal contact information on pictures of naked schoolboys, posted them to Russian image websites, and dropped the image URLs into anonymous comments. He did that because Russia was beyond my reach to do anything about it.
The troll didn’t know that Google Chrome can translate a foreign language web page into English, most of the Russian image websites had a “DMCA Notice” category on their contact form, and even Russians don’t want naked schoolboy pictures on their websites. It took six weeks and 200+ DMCA takedown notices to clean up that mess.
Based on the personal information that the troll provided to me, he is a French-Canadian citizen, married with several children, makes $200,000 per year, owns several homes, travels internationally for business, and speaks fluent English, French and Russian. For someone who proclaims himself to be a “normal” person, he is very fluent in the ways of the dark web.
YouTube announced that they are planning to disable comments on videos featuring minors, a new comment classifier to remove predatory comments, and taking action against users who engage in predatory comments.
That should keep the advertisers happy until the next problem causes them to pull ads and run for the exits.
YouTube need to go one step further by demonetizing ALL videos with minors to remove the financial incentives for adults to exploit children. Elsagate and FamilyOFive happened because adults saw a way to make money. Pedophiles are lurking in the comment sections because of an abundance of family friendly content made possible by ad revenues.
Advertisers are offering brand deals to the parents of young children who have substantial social media presence on YouTube and Instagram. Adult influencers are being replaced by kidfluencers, some as young as newborns. With $10,000 for an Instagram post and $45,000 for a sponsored YouTube video, some parents may find it hard to say no to that kind the money.
It’s not like they are selling out their young children to pedophiles.
NOTE: For the purpose of this essay, I’ve chosen not to reveal the name of the tech news website. The current owner worked hard to contain my dedicated band of trolls, implementing new features that make it possible to disable fake user accounts and remove inappropriate comments. It’s better to let my dedicated band of trolls stew in anonymous obscurity.