Wednesday, April 3, 2019

YouTube Videos Instructing Violence, Self-Harm, & Suicide Attempts (2017-Present)

Case Description

It was brought to attention in 2017 and recently resurfaced in February that individuals witnessed videos on YouTube Kids that were displaying very malicious and inappropriate content. The cartoons will begin to perform very inappropriate acts, some displaying violence and others various different actions that should not be viewed by children. Some of these videos will play the actual cartoons children are intending to watch, but in the midst of their viewing the video will cut to a short clip of a man instructing them to inflict pain on themselves. This man will make terrible statements such as, “remember kids sideways for attention long ways for results’ (Maheshwari).
There have been many cases but the woman who originally allowed this issue to gain so much media attention, pediatrician Dr. Free Hess, wrote a blog online speaking about the dangers of these videos that later went viral. She was then interviewed by CBS and had this to say about a particular video and YouTube’s efforts, “Looking at the comments, it had been up for a while, and people had even reported it eight months prior,” (Lewis). The specific video Dr. Hess was referring to was not removed until her blog post went viral, causing even more negative buzz amongst the public. This is especially an issue due to the fact that suicide is one the three leading causes of death in children ages 5-14 (U.S. National Library of Medicine). Fortunately for YouTube no incidents of suicide or self-harm have been found to be directly related to their videos, however the issue is still largely in play. The company has repeatedly tried to reassure everyone that they are doing everything in their power to crack down on these videos and make sure they are no longer on their site. Many are very skeptical if they are being very meticulous in their work because so many of these videos are still appearing on a daily basis.


The Stakeholders in this particular case include children thirteen years old and younger across the entire world, the parents of all children, all executives and workers associated with YouTube, and the individuals that have been uploading these harmful videos. The stakeholders that are most directly affected by this are all children. This is because they are at such a young age that their brains are not fully developed, and what they see could potentially directly influence them to act in an irrational manner. This could include committing violent acts, harming themselves or others, and even suicide. The parents of all children, not just children who have personally seen these videos, are affected in this situation as well. Their child could be watching the videos, their child may be manipulated by another child who has viewed these videos, or their child could be put in harm’s way due to another child acting irrationally. YouTube’s executives and workers are affected by this because they are given a bad reputation for not being able to remove these videos as quickly as many would like. Lastly, the individuals who have uploaded these videos hold a large stake in this case because they are the ones damaging the minds of the youth, possibly causing them to act in a destructive manner.


From the perspective of an individualist the only goal of a business is to maximize profit within the constructs of the law. Therefore, an individualist would feel as though this situation was not taken care of in an ethical manner for a few different reasons. The videos promote illegal acts, they put YouTube’s reputation in a very bad position, and the manner in which the videos were removed was performed inefficiently.
Although YouTube does not directly break the law themselves through these videos, many of these videos advocate for illegal acts to be committed by the youth. If YouTube is found to be linked to acts of violence or suicide because of their content, they could end up in a very long legal battle. YouTube’s reputation has been in jeopardy because they have been the topic of much unfavorable media attention due to these videos, which could result in their profits greatly decreasing. Milton Friedman’s original idea of “classic individualism” states, “Spending money on resources, employees, and donations to causes is wrong because it is essentially stealing from the owner or owners of the company” (Salazar 17-18). YouTube directly neglected Friedman’s idea of not attempting to be “socially responsible” when they decided to hire over 10,000 new employees to increase the monitoring of their website content.  Hiring 10,000 new employees is no small matter, and the entire premise behind employing all of these workers was so that they could eliminate their explicit content issue and regain their reputation. This plan failed.


A utilitarian believes that the ultimate goal in any scenario is to obtain the maximum amount of happiness possible by every stakeholder. That being the case, a utilitarian would refute this situation as ethical from the perspective of every stakeholder in this matter. Children may harm themselves or others, parents are very upset with what their children are watching, and YouTube receives a terrible reputation and damages the minds of adolescents.
      Not only do none of the stakeholders achieve maximum happiness, none of them really achieve any form of happiness in this instance at all. Children are the stakeholders that are most greatly harmed by this issue. They have been innocently trying to watch cartoons that would normally cause them great joy, laughter, and even give them education. Instead, they observe their favorite cartoons doing things such as drinking bleach, fighting, and taking part in drugs; possibly leading them to believe these acts are okay. Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill theorize, “utilitarians are concerned about the long-term costs and benefits of actions” (Salazar 20). Seeing these videos could set off panic in the minds of parents and cause them to totally alter how they would raise their children and reshaping their entire future. YouTube does not even benefit from this circumstance. Although they may be getting views on these videos, the amount of bad publicity that they are continually being mentioned in is very detrimental to the image that they have built up since 2005. (YouTube Help)


A follower of Kantianism believes that all individuals should act rationally in all of their actions/decisions, help others to make rational decisions, respect people and their autonomy, and always be motivated by goodwill. Furthermore, the formula of humanity under Kantianism states, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (Kant, MM 429). Because of these aspects a Kantian would refute that this issue was handled ethically.
            The stakeholders in this case that are outright breaching the constructs of Kantianism are YouTube and the individuals that chose to upload the videos to YouTube. YouTube itself is not aiding the youth in making rational decisions because they are allowing for these awful clips to stay on their site for an extended period of time. This is considered to be a form of treating an individual as a “means”; in other words, using a person, or in this case millions of people, as an asset to achieve or attain something else (Salazar Kantian Business Ethics, slide 9). By many people in the general public it has been perceived that YouTube is leaving these videos up because they attract attention to their site, basically using their viewers as a means to gain popularity. The motivation of self-interest states, “I will be honest with my customers in order to gain their trust and get repeat-business” (Salazar Kantian Business Ethics, slide 12), which is being violated due to their dishonesty and unwillingness to retain users. The uploaders of these videos are in total violation of Kantianism as well just for different reasons. Uploading these fake cartoons that contain abusive behavior to a children’s website for all children to see is the furthest possible thing from acting rational. It actually leads children to make irrational decisions. It does not show any sort of respect for people and their autonomy. Lastly, there is not an ounce of goodwill instilled in these actions.

Virtue Theory

            A virtue theorist is an individual who truly thinks in the moment and focuses on the means of a situation. What matters to them is how a company or person carries their self on a regular basis. They believe that how a person regularly acts depicts what kind of character they truly have. “Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits,” (Salazar 17). The four main virtues that a virtue theorist applies when analyzing a situation are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. In this instance one could argue that none of the four of these virtues were followed in this case. Therefore, a virtue theorist would feel this situation was handled unethically.
            Courage is defined as “risk-taking and willingness to take a stand for the right ideas and actions”. In this case many individuals may feel as though both YouTube and the uploaders of these videos were acting very cowardice. YouTube, because of their unwillingness to be upfront about the dilemma. The uploaders, because they made damaging videos to children behind a computer screen, not even willing to show their faces. The second virtue of honesty speaks about agreements between companies and their customers. YouTube chose to remain quiet for the majority of the duration of this issue leaving the public to feel as though they had been dishonest about their efforts to remove these videos. Temperance in virtue theory is describe as “reasonable expectations and desires”. This virtue is a little bit harder to relate to this topic, but a virtue theorist may take issue with the fact that the users who uploaded these videos did not have reasonable desires when posting them. The last virtue of justice is entirely relatable to this topic. “Hard work, quality products, good ideas, fair practi
ces”, this is how a virtue theorist idealizes justice. Because of this they would most definitely find that YouTube’s “products” or videos are not of great quality and that their “practices” of removing these videos are not fair to children who may become mentally scarred after witnessing these clips. (Salazar Business Ethics and Virtue, slide 6)

Justified Ethics Explanation

In my personal opinion YouTube’s actions in some instances have been unprofessional and quite unethical, however they have also showed that they are trying to fix the issue at hand. Yes, they have made considerable efforts to remove these videos and to me it is very important to realize how massive YouTube is. However, I feel as though YouTube must be much more open and transparent with the public when it comes to this matter because it makes it seem as though they are trying to hide something. When researching the topic you will stumble upon many articles that say something along the lines of “we asked YouTube for a statement on this topic and they chose to decline”. I think that is an entirely awful look for them and it allows people to assume whatever they would like to believe about this situation. If YouTube was to come out to the public stating exactly how the process of video removal works, how they are trying to improve it, and how the public can help them improve it would greatly help their cause. When Dr. Free Hess posted her blog online speaking about one of the videos in particular and facts about suicide in children, it gained attention from so many, and then YouTube took down the video. This made YouTube look very selfish, only removing the videos to better themselves.

Action Plan

YouTube clearly has their work cut out for them in resolving this issue, however there are a few different steps they can take in order to successfully put this issue to rest. They may hire more employees so they can be more precise in monitoring their content, they must drastically improve their technology to ensure these videos do not even make it on to their site, and they should implement strict background checks on people that intend to upload media to their channels.
The first step YouTube must take in order to eliminate this problem, although they already hired 10,000 new employees, they should definitely consider adding on even more. YouTube’s population is absolutely massive with over 30 million users a day, and over 5 billion videos uploaded to date (YouTube Help). It is simply impossible to expect just 10,000 people (keep in mind they are not all working at the same time) to sift through every single video. That is why in the next step YouTube must put the bulk of their emphasis on greatly improving their technology. The algorithms must be more accurate and effective.
The final step YouTube must complete to make their site a safer and more inviting environment for children is to implement background checks on users. YouTube is very relaxed on who they allow to display content on their website. Anyone who has access to a computer is able to create an account and very easily upload videos of their choice. Yes, as it was mentioned before YouTube does have the three strike system. The third strike does result in the removal of the user’s account, but who’s to say that user will not very easily create another account? Who’s to say that user will not upload those same type of videos on their new account?

Works Cited

“Community Guidelines Strike Basics - YouTube Help.” YouTube Help, Google,   
“Death among Children and Adolescents: MedlinePlus Medical                  Encyclopedia.”MedlinePlus,U.S.National Library of Medicine, 2019,   
Iyengar, Rishi, and Making Greater Use Of Smart Technology. “Google Is Hiring 10,000 People to Clean up YouTube.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network,     videos/index.html.
Lewis, Sophie. “Horrified Mom Discovers Suicide Instructions in Video on YouTube and                        YouTube Kids.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 23 Feb. 2019,                                                                  suicide-instructions-in-video-on-youtube-and-youtube-kids/
Maheshwari, Sapna. “On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters.” The New York         Times,             The New York Times, 4 Nov. 2017
O'Brien, Sara Ashley. “Google Cracks down on Disturbing Cartoons on YouTube Kids.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network,    age-restriction/?iid=EL.
Salazar, Heather. Kantian Business Ethics. n.d.
Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics and Virtue. n.d.
Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual. n.d.
Subedar & Yates.“The Disturbing YouTube Videos That Are Tricking Children.” BBC News,
            BBC, 27 Mar. 2017,
Weston, Phoebe. “YouTube Kids App Is STILL Showing Disturbing Videos.” Daily Mail            Online, Associated Newspapers, 6 Feb. 2018,                 5358365/YouTube-Kids-app-showing-disturbing-videos.html.

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