Fall of linear TV turns kids towards dark corners of YouTube


The neon-soaked world of YouTube Kids is a worrying place. Now that the internet is more accessible than ever, kids across the globe have instant access to hours of content designed to keep them watching. This obviously wasn’t always the case, so let’s take a look at how kids content got to where it is today and why it might be beneficial to restrict access to certain media.

People born somewhere between 2000 to 2008 were some of the last kids to grow up on linear TV — TV with a set programming schedule. 

At the time, cartoons like “Phineas and Ferb,” “Avatar the Last Airbender,” and “Adventure Time” were massively popular. For families without cable, PBS Kids offered educational shows like “Wild Kratts” and “Arthur,” which helped children with learning math, science and social skills.

Modern content for youth on the internet is dramatically different. Many channels on YouTube Kids manipulate unlicensed, recognizable Disney characters and brands to gain the attention of their young audience, but can have disturbing messages. This is shown in the vast number of deeply unsettling “parody” videos that feature the “Frozen” character Elsa, and Spiderman from the Marvel franchise. The titles of these include every kind of buzzword imaginable. 

“Elsagate” is a term that’s developed on the internet to describe this type of content on YouTube that harbors inappropriate themes behind the guise of family friendly characters. 

These low-budget “Elsagate” videos often contain bizarre sexual situations, love triangles, and an uncomfortable fixation on pregnancy. People became aware of the trend back in 2017, and despite YouTube’s banning of many of the inappropriate kids channels, it hasn’t fully died out.

Girls Go Games is a good example of the “Elsagate” trend persevering. The site is targeted at young girls, and contains hundreds of glossy-pink browser games, all of which heavily enforce sexist gender roles. “Sleepy Princess: Resurrection,” “Princess Pregnancy Checkup,” and “Shopaholic: Wedding Models” are just a couple of the creepy front page games that have harmful messages about societal norms that could impact the young playerbase. The transition from linear TV to YouTube Kids has undeniably allowed for some gross kids’ content to flourish and grow.

As the nature of kids’ media evolves, so do the ways in which consumption can be restricted. Compared to linear TV and streaming services, the content on social media is far more difficult to manage. TV has a schedule that’s the same for all viewers, while social media is specifically tailored to the consumer, designed to keep each individual watching. There’s a huge difference in the way the two affect kids, especially since YouTube has a shaky reputation when it comes to its targeted content. In 2019, Google was forced to pay an unprecedented $170 million to the Federal Trade Commission and New York government for violating children’s privacy laws. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits websites from collecting data on kids under the age of 13 without parental consent.

It’s unknown if the consumption of inappropriate media has a significant effect on kids. The predatory nature of social media, however, is very well known. Media has evolved drastically over the last few decades, and now more than ever, it’s important to be aware of the content kids consume.