A child watching videos on YouTube is an average of three clicks away from potentially disturbing adult content, according to a recent study released by British digital security firm Kaspersky Lab.
The study, released Tuesday to coincide with Europe’s Safer Internet Day, looked at popular children’s programs and the “related videos” that surface with them. YouTube’s algorithms generally segregate these types of content, the study points out, but as in a game of telephone, it’s easy to migrate from innocent content to more questionable fare.
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According to the study, a child watching Sesame Street on YouTube could reach an accident video in two clicks. It would take four clicks to get to swearing and nudity from Dora the Explorer.
YouTube does offer a slate of parental control tools, including a “flag as inappropriate” button at the bottom of every video. Some videos cannot be viewed by users under age 18. And a setting called “Safety Mode,” accessible from the bottom of any YouTube page, filters out videos that other users have flagged as inappropriate.
“Keeping an open line of communication is critical to ensuring” that your child stays safe online, YouTube’s parental guidelines advise.
YouTube also does not allow children under 13 to sign up for accounts, although they can watch videos without signing in. The site’s guidelines prohibit videos depicting violence, sexual content and drug use, among other things, but that still lets videos of bloody protests or medical procedures from getting through.
“At YouTube, we take safety seriously,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post, adding that the site’s Safety Center includes resources for parents and educators.
Those types of resources are exactly what Insafe, the European-Union-funded organization that runs Safer Internet Day, wants. The group encourages parents to actively educate even young children on cyber risks. Its Web site includes an activity book, “Play and Learn: Being Online,” for kids ages 4 to 8.
Kaspersky Lab advocates even stricter measures, such as personally watching children as they browse the Web or installing security software to filter their results. In either case, children shouldn’t use the Internet without supervision, according to the group.