Epic Games, the publisher of blockbuster video game Fortnite, has paused its pre-roll ad spend on YouTube after discovering that spots were appearing alongside ostensibly innocent videos of underage girls that had garnered pedophilic comments.
Epic’s move arrives after the YouTuber Matt Watson revealed in a widely-viewed exposé video that a “wormhole” on YouTube exists whereby videos of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls — doing gymnastics or yoga or lounging by the pool, for instance — are attracting pedophiles in their comments sections, where viewers are time-stamping moments they find to be arousing, and even sharing links to child pornography on external websites.
In addition to that sickening revelation, Wired reports that ads from major brands were also airing alongside the videos — which have collectively gathered millions of views, it says — including the likes car manufacturer Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fortnite, online grammar-checking platform Grammarly, L’Oréal, Maybelline, the video game Metro: Exodus, Peloton, and SingleMuslims.com.
While Epic said that it was pausing its pre-roll ad spend across YouTube, other affected companies responded to the discovery, too — though none appear to have halted their spend as of yet. Grammarly said that it was “absolutely horrified” and had “reached out to YouTube to rectify this immediately,” while Peloton told Wired that it was working with its ad agency to investigate how this had happened.
The situation vaguely smacks of the Adpocalypse that kicked off in the spring of 2017, after a slew of major advertisers yanked their spend after discovering that ads had run against videos promoting terrorism and hate speech. And the issue of pedophiles inappropriately commenting on kids’ videos first came to light in Nov. 2017, per Wired, whereupon YouTube began to attempt to rectify the situation by disabling comments on offending videos. However, Wired reports that many still tout the vile time stamps.
In a statement earlier this week, YouTube told Tubefilter that “any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent.” When found, depending on the nature of the offense, ads are halted (or the video is removed from the platform entirely), offending accounts are terminated, and users are reported to the relevant authorities, the company said. “We continue to invest heavily in technology, teams and partnerships with charities to tackle this issue.”
Nevertheless, YouTube has long struggled to clamp down on content that exploits children. In 2017, it shuttered the massively popular Toy Freaks channel, which had amassed 8.5 million subscribers, for posting bizarre and suggestive skits starring a father and his two daughters. And last summer, YouTube finally terminated channels belonging to the parents behind DaddyOfFive, who were found to have been emotionally and physically abusing their children in family vlogs. Most recently, YouTube reversed course and opted to terminate the channel of convicted sex offender Austin Jones, who had used his YouTube presence to lure underage fans into sending him graphic videos.