Kids Are Being Tricked into Watching Twisted Videos Disguised as Their Favorite Shows

little girl on tablet
iStock.com/onebluelight

If your kids are anything like mine, chances are they're obsessed with YouTube. Almost every parent I know laments the time their kids waste on the site watching clips of their favorite shows or even just videos of other people playing with their favorite toys and games. Personally, I've always been a little leery of YouTube, because it seems all too easy for users to smuggle in inappropriate content under the guise of being kid-friendly. And it turns out my suspicions were correct: People are actually using popular kid favorites like Peppa Pig and Thomas the Train to trick children into watching disturbing videos.

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A report by BBC Trending recently found hundreds of "fake" kids' videos circulating on YouTube. The videos get uploaded as "parodies" and feature popular characters like Doc McStuffins, the Cookie Monster, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, and other lovable favorites in some decidedly not-so-lovable scenarios. In one video highlighted by BBC, Peppa Pig has her teeth pulled by an evil dentist while a soundtrack of "distressed crying" plays in the background.

inappropriate parodies
PepaPigStory/YouTube

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The creepy videos first came to light after mom and journalist Laura June wrote an exposé for an online magazine called The Outline. In her article, June details a faux Doc McStuffins video that opens with the character's dad injecting pumpkins with a giant syringe, which ultimately turns all the characters into terrifying zombies.

inappropriate videos tricking kids
SmileKidsTv/YouTube

Hypodermic needles and brain-thirsty zombies are some real G-rated, kid-friendly stuff, right? Disturbingly, that video shows up on a YouTube channel called Smile Kids TV -- and that's exactly the problem, says June. The fake videos look exactly like real cartoons, and they show up in searches or in the sidebars where YouTube suggests content you might like -- even if you're using YouTube's supposedly "safe" app, YouTube Kids.

"The YouTube Kids app, by its own admission, does filter the videos to try to ensure it's kid friendly, but it does so in an automated fashion, meaning that things like faux Peppa Pig sneak in quite easily," June writes.

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Basically, any weirdo can upload a disturbing video on YouTube that looks exactly like your kid's favorite cartoon, and your kid could stumble upon it without your even knowing. This obviously sucks for parents, since many of us rely on short cartoon clips on YouTube to keep our kids distracted in the pediatrician's waiting room or when they start acting up in restaurants. We know it isn't 100 percent safe, but we at least figure we'll be able to tell if our kids are checking out something funky. Now, it turns out, even filters and carefully monitoring searches don't always mean kids are safe.

inappropriate kids videos
OwlFunyTV/YouTube

inappropriate kids parodies
HansPedilla/YouTube

So, what can we do about this? Unfortunately, not much. In a statement provided to BBC, YouTube said the best option parents have is to use their YouTube Kids app in restricted mode and flag any videos they deem inappropriate. "Flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don't belong in the app are removed within hours. For parents who want a more restricted experience, we recommend that they turn off the Search feature in the app," the statement reads.

The other logical step we can take is to make sure our kids never watch videos on YouTube unsupervised. Sure, it's convenient to let kids surf through a few clips of their favorite shows when we're in a bind, but as these fake videos demonstrate, there simply is no "safe space" for kids online. Inappropriate and disturbing content can sneak in, no matter what site you're on or what child-filtered apps you download. It's always better to be safe than sorry, even if it means putting some seriously stringent new guidelines on one of our kids' favorite distractions.

You can check out one of the creepy videos for yourself right here:

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