The nightmare videos of childrens’ YouTube — and what’s wrong with the internet today | James Bridle


Written by:

I’m James. I’m a writer and artist, and I make work about technology. I do things like draw life-size outlines
of military drones in city streets around the world, so that people can start to think
and get their heads around these really quite hard-to-see
and hard-to-think-about technologies. I make things like neural networks
that predict the results of elections based on weather reports, because I’m intrigued about what the actual possibilities
of these weird new technologies are. Last year, I built
my own self-driving car. But because I don’t
really trust technology, I also designed a trap for it. (Laughter) And I do these things mostly because
I find them completely fascinating, but also because I think
when we talk about technology, we’re largely talking about ourselves and the way that we understand the world. So here’s a story about technology. This is a “surprise egg” video. It’s basically a video of someone
opening up loads of chocolate eggs and showing the toys inside to the viewer. That’s it. That’s all it does
for seven long minutes. And I want you to notice
two things about this. First of all, this video
has 30 million views. (Laughter) And the other thing is, it comes from a channel
that has 6.3 million subscribers, that has a total of eight billion views, and it’s all just more videos like this — 30 million people watching a guy
opening up these eggs. It sounds pretty weird, but if you search
for “surprise eggs” on YouTube, it’ll tell you there’s
10 million of these videos, and I think that’s an undercount. I think there’s way, way more of these. If you keep searching, they’re endless. There’s millions and millions
of these videos in increasingly baroque combinations
of brands and materials, and there’s more and more of them
being uploaded every single day. Like, this is a strange world. Right? But the thing is, it’s not adults
who are watching these videos. It’s kids, small children. These videos are
like crack for little kids. There’s something about the repetition, the constant little
dopamine hit of the reveal, that completely hooks them in. And little kids watch these videos
over and over and over again, and they do it for hours
and hours and hours. And if you try and take
the screen away from them, they’ll scream and scream and scream. If you don’t believe me — and I’ve already seen people
in the audience nodding — if you don’t believe me, find someone
with small children and ask them, and they’ll know about
the surprise egg videos. So this is where we start. It’s 2018, and someone, or lots of people, are using the same mechanism that, like,
Facebook and Instagram are using to get you to keep checking that app, and they’re using it on YouTube
to hack the brains of very small children in return for advertising revenue. At least, I hope
that’s what they’re doing. I hope that’s what they’re doing it for, because there’s easier ways
of making ad revenue on YouTube. You can just make stuff up or steal stuff. So if you search for really
popular kids’ cartoons like “Peppa Pig” or “Paw Patrol,” you’ll find there’s millions and millions
of these online as well. Of course, most of them aren’t posted
by the original content creators. They come from loads and loads
of different random accounts, and it’s impossible to know
who’s posting them or what their motives might be. Does that sound kind of familiar? Because it’s exactly the same mechanism that’s happening across most
of our digital services, where it’s impossible to know
where this information is coming from. It’s basically fake news for kids, and we’re training them from birth to click on the very first link
that comes along, regardless of what the source is. That’s doesn’t seem like
a terribly good idea. Here’s another thing
that’s really big on kids’ YouTube. This is called the “Finger Family Song.” I just heard someone groan
in the audience. This is the “Finger Family Song.” This is the very first one I could find. It’s from 2007, and it only has
200,000 views, which is, like, nothing in this game. But it has this insanely earwormy tune, which I’m not going to play to you, because it will sear itself
into your brain in the same way that
it seared itself into mine, and I’m not going to do that to you. But like the surprise eggs, it’s got inside kids’ heads and addicted them to it. So within a few years,
these finger family videos start appearing everywhere, and you get versions
in different languages with popular kids’ cartoons using food or, frankly, using whatever kind
of animation elements you seem to have lying around. And once again, there are millions
and millions and millions of these videos available online in all of these
kind of insane combinations. And the more time
you start to spend with them, the crazier and crazier
you start to feel that you might be. And that’s where I
kind of launched into this, that feeling of deep strangeness
and deep lack of understanding of how this thing was constructed
that seems to be presented around me. Because it’s impossible to know
where these things are coming from. Like, who is making them? Some of them appear to be made
of teams of professional animators. Some of them are just randomly
assembled by software. Some of them are quite wholesome-looking
young kids’ entertainers. And some of them are from people who really clearly
shouldn’t be around children at all. (Laughter) And once again, this impossibility
of figuring out who’s making this stuff — like, this is a bot? Is this a person? Is this a troll? What does it mean
that we can’t tell the difference between these things anymore? And again, doesn’t that uncertainty
feel kind of familiar right now? So the main way people get views
on their videos — and remember, views mean money — is that they stuff the titles
of these videos with these popular terms. So you take, like, “surprise eggs” and then you add
“Paw Patrol,” “Easter egg,” or whatever these things are, all of these words from other
popular videos into your title, until you end up with this kind of
meaningless mash of language that doesn’t make sense to humans at all. Because of course it’s only really
tiny kids who are watching your video, and what the hell do they know? Your real audience
for this stuff is software. It’s the algorithms. It’s the software that YouTube uses to select which videos
are like other videos, to make them popular,
to make them recommended. And that’s why you end up with this
kind of completely meaningless mash, both of title and of content. But the thing is, you have to remember, there really are still people within
this algorithmically optimized system, people who are kind
of increasingly forced to act out these increasingly bizarre
combinations of words, like a desperate improvisation artist
responding to the combined screams of a million toddlers at once. There are real people
trapped within these systems, and that’s the other deeply strange thing
about this algorithmically driven culture, because even if you’re human, you have to end up behaving like a machine just to survive. And also, on the other side of the screen, there still are these little kids
watching this stuff, stuck, their full attention grabbed
by these weird mechanisms. And most of these kids are too small
to even use a website. They’re just kind of hammering
on the screen with their little hands. And so there’s autoplay, where it just keeps playing these videos
over and over and over in a loop, endlessly for hours and hours at a time. And there’s so much weirdness
in the system now that autoplay takes you
to some pretty strange places. This is how, within a dozen steps, you can go from a cute video
of a counting train to masturbating Mickey Mouse. Yeah. I’m sorry about that. This does get worse. This is what happens when all of these different keywords, all these different pieces of attention, this desperate generation of content, all comes together into a single place. This is where all those deeply weird
keywords come home to roost. You cross-breed the finger family video with some live-action superhero stuff, you add in some weird,
trollish in-jokes or something, and suddenly, you come
to a very weird place indeed. The stuff that tends to upset parents is the stuff that has kind of violent
or sexual content, right? Children’s cartoons getting assaulted, getting killed, weird pranks that actually
genuinely terrify children. What you have is software pulling in
all of these different influences to automatically generate
kids’ worst nightmares. And this stuff really, really
does affect small children. Parents report their children
being traumatized, becoming afraid of the dark, becoming afraid of their favorite
cartoon characters. If you take one thing away from this,
it’s that if you have small children, keep them the hell away from YouTube. (Applause) But the other thing, the thing
that really gets to me about this, is that I’m not sure we even really
understand how we got to this point. We’ve taken all of this influence,
all of these things, and munged them together in a way
that no one really intended. And yet, this is also the way
that we’re building the entire world. We’re taking all of this data, a lot of it bad data, a lot of historical data
full of prejudice, full of all of our worst
impulses of history, and we’re building that
into huge data sets and then we’re automating it. And we’re munging it together
into things like credit reports, into insurance premiums, into things like predictive
policing systems, into sentencing guidelines. This is the way we’re actually
constructing the world today out of this data. And I don’t know what’s worse, that we built a system
that seems to be entirely optimized for the absolute worst aspects
of human behavior, or that we seem
to have done it by accident, without even realizing
that we were doing it, because we didn’t really understand
the systems that we were building, and we didn’t really understand
how to do anything differently with it. There’s a couple of things I think
that really seem to be driving this most fully on YouTube, and the first of those is advertising, which is the monetization of attention without any real other variables at work, any care for the people who are
actually developing this content, the centralization of the power,
the separation of those things. And I think however you feel
about the use of advertising to kind of support stuff, the sight of grown men in diapers
rolling around in the sand in the hope that an algorithm
that they don’t really understand will give them money for it suggests that this
probably isn’t the thing that we should be basing
our society and culture upon, and the way in which
we should be funding it. And the other thing that’s kind of
the major driver of this is automation, which is the deployment
of all of this technology as soon as it arrives,
without any kind of oversight, and then once it’s out there, kind of throwing up our hands and going,
“Hey, it’s not us, it’s the technology.” Like, “We’re not involved in it.” That’s not really good enough, because this stuff isn’t
just algorithmically governed, it’s also algorithmically policed. When YouTube first started
to pay attention to this, the first thing they said
they’d do about it was that they’d deploy
better machine learning algorithms to moderate the content. Well, machine learning,
as any expert in it will tell you, is basically what we’ve started to call software that we don’t really
understand how it works. And I think we have
enough of that already. We shouldn’t be leaving
this stuff up to AI to decide what’s appropriate or not, because we know what happens. It’ll start censoring other things. It’ll start censoring queer content. It’ll start censoring
legitimate public speech. What’s allowed in these discourses, it shouldn’t be something
that’s left up to unaccountable systems. It’s part of a discussion
all of us should be having. But I’d leave a reminder that the alternative isn’t
very pleasant, either. YouTube also announced recently that they’re going to release
a version of their kids’ app that would be entirely
moderated by humans. Facebook — Zuckerberg said
much the same thing at Congress, when pressed about how they
were going to moderate their stuff. He said they’d have humans doing it. And what that really means is, instead of having toddlers being
the first person to see this stuff, you’re going to have underpaid,
precarious contract workers without proper mental health support being damaged by it as well. (Laughter) And I think we can all do
quite a lot better than that. (Applause) The thought, I think, that brings those
two things together, really, for me, is agency. It’s like, how much do we really
understand — by agency, I mean: how we know how to act
in our own best interests. Which — it’s almost impossible to do in these systems that we don’t
really fully understand. Inequality of power
always leads to violence. And we can see inside these systems that inequality of understanding
does the same thing. If there’s one thing that we can do
to start to improve these systems, it’s to make them more legible
to the people who use them, so that all of us have
a common understanding of what’s actually going on here. The thing, though, I think
most about these systems is that this isn’t, as I hope
I’ve explained, really about YouTube. It’s about everything. These issues of accountability and agency, of opacity and complexity, of the violence and exploitation
that inherently results from the concentration
of power in a few hands — these are much, much larger issues. And they’re issues not just of YouTube
and not just of technology in general, and they’re not even new. They’ve been with us for ages. But we finally built this system,
this global system, the internet, that’s actually showing them to us
in this extraordinary way, making them undeniable. Technology has this extraordinary capacity to both instantiate and continue all of our most extraordinary,
often hidden desires and biases and encoding them into the world, but it also writes them down
so that we can see them, so that we can’t pretend
they don’t exist anymore. We need to stop thinking about technology
as a solution to all of our problems, but think of it as a guide
to what those problems actually are, so we can start thinking
about them properly and start to address them. Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Helen Walters: James, thank you
for coming and giving us that talk. So it’s interesting: when you think about the films where
the robotic overlords take over, it’s all a bit more glamorous
than what you’re describing. But I wonder — in those films,
you have the resistance mounting. Is there a resistance mounting
towards this stuff? Do you see any positive signs,
green shoots of resistance? James Bridle: I don’t know
about direct resistance, because I think this stuff
is super long-term. I think it’s baked into culture
in really deep ways. A friend of mine,
Eleanor Saitta, always says that any technological problems
of sufficient scale and scope are political problems first of all. So all of these things we’re working
to address within this are not going to be addressed
just by building the technology better, but actually by changing the society
that’s producing these technologies. So no, right now, I think we’ve got
a hell of a long way to go. But as I said, I think by unpacking them, by explaining them, by talking
about them super honestly, we can actually start
to at least begin that process. HW: And so when you talk about
legibility and digital literacy, I find it difficult to imagine that we need to place the burden
of digital literacy on users themselves. But whose responsibility
is education in this new world? JB: Again, I think this responsibility
is kind of up to all of us, that everything we do,
everything we build, everything we make, needs to be made
in a consensual discussion with everyone who’s avoiding it; that we’re not building systems
intended to trick and surprise people into doing the right thing, but that they’re actually involved
in every step in educating them, because each of these systems
is educational. That’s what I’m hopeful about,
about even this really grim stuff, that if you can take it
and look at it properly, it’s actually in itself
a piece of education that allows you to start seeing
how complex systems come together and work and maybe be able to apply
that knowledge elsewhere in the world. HW: James, it’s such
an important discussion, and I know many people here
are really open and prepared to have it, so thanks for starting off our morning. JB: Thanks very much. Cheers. (Applause)

100 Replies to “The nightmare videos of childrens’ YouTube — and what’s wrong with the internet today | James Bridle”

  1. G-Max Jayden says:

    The only reason I love dumb kids videos is because how dumb they are.

  2. G-Max Jayden says:

    Parents, USE YOUTUBE KIDS! they finally changed it so that now there are only certain channels allowed.

  3. Amemdocrem or Henzo Uriel alt says:

    My mom had the idea to put Family Link on me and my little sister
    My sister watches THAT kind of content, while I watch something ELSE(games like Minecraft and other stuff).
    Idk why my mom put me in the link thing, I don't need that.

  4. Mikks says:

    im glad i grew up with minecraft lets-plays

  5. jeur Matev says:

    finnaly who someone who understands

  6. Anthony Sanabria says:

    We need a name for this…

  7. Jokūbas K says:

    I'm glad that i grew up with minecraft songs not this…

  8. Salva Joe says:

    8:03 top left corner.

  9. Aydan Olvera says:

    This guy is a BOMMER

  10. Rex & Izzy Rox says:

    youtube = north korea

  11. Goodkill says:

    If I ever have kids in the future I'm going to raise them on old episodes of shows like sesame street, mr. Rogers, Arthur, and all the other great shows I grew up with

  12. normal humanZ says:

    I actually like coppa now,somehow

  13. Ultimate Noob says:



  14. Ethan Rush says:

    Yeah I remember when I was younger, it was a while back obviously and I didn't watch things so much realted to that but when I look at stuff like so to say there's a YouTuber, can't think of the name but he posted videos back in the early 2000s and they have a sectioned off room that kinda looks like a factory room and they have dimed lights projecting onto the instrument machine and it really bothers me as if I where sectioned off into an area where no one could hear, find me and like I don't feel like I'm in real life, and that is something that still bothers me today. as if something really bad was correlated with it even though it's just a musical animation. Thanks for reading this

  15. KingTurtle37 says:

    I’m glad I mostly watched club penguin videos when I was a small child.

  16. Alright Yes says:

    It's sad because even if we're able to do something about this issue there'll always be those who will go out of their way to sell their dignity for a quick buck

  17. Tessie Bernardo says:

    My sister watch that useless stuff

  18. 33Cube says:

    8:03 "you picked the wrong house fool"

  19. hi idk says:

    My brother casually watching indian finger family song mickey mouse

    Turns it off : *him devil in disguise

  20. Drawing It! says:

    Wait till COPPA hears about this

  21. Maddix ! says:


  22. Klonter77 von Planet77 says:

    5:21 in the right corner ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  23. Alma Bell says:

    coppa wasn't as big at this point

  24. LonelyDarkness says:

    Dont worry, the Coppa can fix this problem

  25. Isa Shahid says:


  26. Jax McGee says:

    when i saw this, i legit thought it was an Onion talk. but its a real TED talk.

  27. Teun van Haastrecht says:

    Thank god for coppa

  28. Sharkcraft says:

    5:23 most of them

  29. Sharkcraft says:

    10:05 that title just feels like the person who wrote was having an extreme stroke while also being very drunk

  30. Alto - Minecraft says:

    The kids who watch these videos are sitting on their couch in their town home with an I pad with that stupid blue foam case with the handle that their mom gave to them while saying “go watch some learning videos.”

  31. Ninja Army Gaming says:

    The issue isn't the Internet. But rather parents who shove an ipad in their toddlers face to shut them up without supervising what they're watching.

  32. a a says:

    the earrings why WHY no!

  33. FLOWER LOVE says:

    My best friends mom banned her little kid from YouTube kids shows , because she read an article where a child was traumatized because of YouTube paw patrol where a kid in it got drunk and crashed on a couch, and earlier my best friend and her older sister watched Dora for a joke and her papa was swearing. Honestly we all know it’s from traumatized people from when they were kids…

  34. IDontKnow You says:

    Glad I wasn't born when kids channels blew out on YT

  35. meow says:

    youtube should be banned for kids

  36. Taro says:

    Me: OK, I’ll let my son to watch only educational videos.
    My son: 0/5 parenting, I hope you’re not my father.

  37. Mário Sérgio Scheinpflug Fenilli says:

    Thank God I don't watched this when I was a toddler

  38. JustWowNick says:

    This is what us gamers call a “cash cow”.

  39. Kiko 99 says:

    Ngl but Kids content on youtube is just seriously disturbing, kids don't watch that, only toddlers age 1-3 watch it

  40. GoldenDoodle252 says:

    This kinda thing is one of the very few reasons why COPPA isn't all bad…

  41. Cami Burkhart says:

    Am I the only one who wishes to have been born in the 20th century?

  42. Liam Funnyman says:

    This is why I'm against COPPA.

  43. chickN wings says:

    this is so messed up

  44. Mielkavra ! says:

    Im scared on Barney when I was little but not at this problem

  45. Kona And Other Things says:

    Thank god these stuff are gone

  46. Kona And Other Things says:


    I used to watch opening suprise eggs but only for a small amount of time

    And maybe some weird sesame street toys or whatever

    Like a whole year just that at the age of 5

  47. SinusPlate says:

    Those Video's that he show is so *You know what I mean*.
    they are ruining Yt, Those Kids and uneducated adults hungry for some money.
    also some unofficial channel copyright you for editing Peppa Pig.

  48. Peridot Pines says:

    Masturbating Mickey Mouse
    YouTube: i sleep

    1 nanosecond of copyrighted song in video
    YouTube: R E A L S H I T

  49. Harvo Spoon says:

    8:03 po from the teletubbies regrets his savage murder as tinky winky challenges him to battle

  50. Diego Maya says:

    Yo man what happening on the top left corner and bottom right 8:04

  51. crypticWNC -_- says:

    8:05 in the top left its fucking GTA San Andreas…

  52. CrypcY gaming channel says:

    This is when Coppa's rule becomes very usefull

  53. CrypcY gaming channel says:

    GTA SA top left Teletubbies version WTF?


  54. that derpy tuber says:

    Isn't that just illegal

  55. ToxicYT839 says:

    glad i watched dantdm minecraft lets plays in my childhood

  56. happinessofdoom says:

    I just watched handy Manny and curious George. This stuff this irritates and gives me cancer.

  57. Matej Games ツ says:

    "Timmy did you do the dishes?"
    "Okay, then youre going to watch Mickey mouse baby DEAD in gas exlosion"

  58. Freddie Mercury says:

    To be honest, what he is saying should be spread. Basically, our entire future generations' minds are being altered in a bad way, making them robots. More awareness should be created on this topic. Well done.

  59. Christian Camilo Méndez Pulido says:

    This is why COPPA is being implemented on YouTube

  60. Goblin Slayer says:

    Finally a guy that understands me

  61. Usuario de aspecto inusual xd says:


  62. Dodo says:

    This guy is literally the infinite forest

  63. Gillian Noffert says:

    “Dopamine hit of the reveal” had me 💀

  64. Jo says:

    When I was little we didn't have YouTube, I watched Disney movies on repeat. I went from rewinding the VHS tapes to setting the DVD to 'Repeat Title'. I've never been more grateful for that because I know I would have been scarred for life.

  65. nara says:

    he never mention youtube for kids?

  66. REPROGRAM says:

    "I'm in that weird part of YouTube again"

    -Every other grown ups/Millenials

  67. REPROGRAM says:

    This is such a unnerving torture to humanity without realization

  68. REPROGRAM says:

    "That autoplay takes you to some pretty strange places"

    This is quite right

  69. Melissa Scraper says:

    i thought the4 video in the bottom left looked familiar CookieSwirlC is one of my faves YouTubers

    in the first four-way split screen.

  70. KEVIN . EDIT says:

    In 2019 FTC sued Youtube for Coppa

  71. Bruno Aguilar says:

    people Who make theses inappropriate children’s videos are terrible

  72. Ice says:

    My little sister is 9 years old and used to watch all of this. She then went onto reaction youtubers – people like ssniperwolf – and was scared of trypophobia, the dark, things like ‘Momo’ and ‘Charlie no face’. My parents thought she was being overreactive. I had to calm her down every time myself.

  73. Gracie Chavez says:


    I have no words 🤭

  74. Creepwit says:

    Those peoples are using kids as a money printer, damn.

  75. AYoshiGuy says:

    This is even worse than the stuff the youtubers are putting on a spongebob episode video

  76. Kyrie Espayos says:

    What do you mean Hitler Dancing in a red bikini with Mr purple bones on the Sahara desert?

    How dare say that tellitubbies acting big smoke and cj a sin its the most greatest thing that man had ever created

  77. Kawaiipony Productions says:

    Well, I’m glad I grew up watching just fan animations related to Mario, Mlp, and Sonic. I still this stuff, especially some I used to watch and ones not really for kids with the language.

  78. The Triggered Boi says:

    COPPA : allow us to introduce ourselves

  79. Mr. Ant says:

    This is why coppa exists

  80. So far, So good says:

    Trump: removes Mexicans back to Mexico

    YouTube algorithm: removes kid videos back to YouTube kids permanently.

  81. Dr. Weil says:

    5:13 I saw that Hitler video somewhere…

  82. Jotaro Kujo says:

    1970: We will have sentient androids in 2019

    2019: Hitler finger family while fighting Spider-Man

  83. jieqiang luo says:

    COPPA & Federal Trades Commission: Splish Splash Kid's content is now trash

  84. orangeproduction says:

    I'm lucky that I grew up when Youtube was a wild west

  85. sunny doll says:

    If anyone would like to know more on this side of YouTube, look up more on the topic Elsagate.

  86. Shaggythethird says:

    Dude I watched those egg vids all the time when I was young

  87. Shaggythethird says:

    And I loved them

  88. DangItsPang says:

    COPPA's promotional advertisement

  89. Nick Wilde says:

    We need Andy Griffith.

  90. Parker Patel says:

    What the duck Hitler vs Skeleton WHAT?

  91. Th3 Rand0m N0ctowl says:

    So when i was five years old i found a wierd video that human turn into animals and i watch repetedly and here i am suprise that it was a Transformation Fetish, again thanks youtube.

  92. Warrior56 says:

    Yeah, uh, on second thought maybe COPPA isn't as bad as I thought

  93. sponge krab says:

    This is why I am glad COPPA exist, my little 4 year old brother watches these weird videos.

  94. Itz Apple Poo says:

    1m plus youtuber: says "shut up".
    Coppa: *BANNED*

    Those stupid kiddie videos: shows Mickey mouse dating Donald Trump while saying bad curse words.

    Coppa:let's pretend we didn't see them

  95. Jace Somers says:


    Who decided it would be a good idea to have the teletubbies in a scene that is copying a scene in GTA SA?

  96. Britannia The Beautiful says:

    Boomer Time.

  97. Bradley Ilagan says:

    I thought I was the only one who thinks the same about these absurd videos, let alone the mish-mash of things. Yes, it's a convenient way to preoccupy kids but there are better and healthier alternatives. I won't even let my future kid touch a phone because, we only let them have their lives revolve about phones and the internet. I've seen toddlers who'd cry without phones. Haven't toy companies gone bankrupt yet?

    I'd be fearing for what they would become, and I'd just hope they'll be more mature handling things.

  98. Ali Ahmed says:

    The worst thing is, "youtube kids" contain these videos with no filtering algorithm.

  99. FokeyT 26 says:

    8:22 is that gta sa with teletubbies in the upper left corners?

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