ElsaGate: Why Youtube is completely and utterly fucked


Words || Max Lewis 

Kids have been looking at crazy shit on the internet for years. We probably all remember the first time we saw ‘blue waffle’ or ‘2 girls 1 cup’ and lost our innocence. There’s always been a debate vis a vis kids and the internet with valid points on both sides, and we’ve seen it change from kids playing video games to toddlers glued to iPads, with no clear answer as to whether or not it’s healthy.

But there’s a weird thing going on with Youtube that people don’t really know about, and it’s happening right under parents’ noses. Dubbed ‘ElsaGate’ by the internet (due to the fact that depictions of Elsa often feature in them), it’s not only fucked up but indicative of the monster Youtube has become due to content automation and ad revenue.

Basically, unknown parties are uploading videos en masse disguised as children’s content. You can probably guess to the extent of kids content on Youtube, but harder to comprehend is how unsettling some of them are. Nursery rhymes, animated animals, the works – but something is off. ‘Uncanny Valley’ off. They’ll usually be badly animated and have cartoon sound effects playing over nonsensical storylines. Weird, but mostly harmless – you can tell the channels are outsourced productions just pumping out derivative content for the ad revenue. But the deeper down the hole you go, the worse it gets. Thumbnails that would draw the eye of kids start to get stranger, the titles more bizarre, and the content kind of fucked up.

One channel I found called ‘Lyra Channel TV’ seemed innocent enough. The videos were cartoons of two toddlers named Sun & Moon, who often feature on the thumbnails smiling and surrounded by bright colours. Others were messed up. One had a drawing of a sharp knife pointing towards a veiny disembodied eyeball, with the title ‘Cartoons Sun & Moon Crying Because Bleeding Eyes Funny Story! Cartoon for Kids by Sun & Moon.’ If you think that’s fucked, just wait till you hear what the actual video entails. It starts off strangely enough, with a badly animated Moon chasing (presumably his sister) Sun around with an eyeball, inexplicably. Through some weird science, Moon manages to create a giant, growling monster covered in eyeballs, with a big red eyeball covered in teeth for a head. The monster runs into Moon (who lets off a weirdly realistic horrified scream) and zaps him with electricity that, from what I can sell, steals the soul of Moon and seemingly kills him. ‘Funny Story!’ for sure.

Meanwhile, Sun is hatching a plan to get back at her brother. She poses with a spray bottle with a logo of a bug with a red cross sign over it, and thought bubbles convey her plan to spray her brother in the face with what one could assume is poison. Y’know – something a child might see and try to emulate on their young, annoying sibling.

After the Elsagate started blowing up around November 2017 – thanks to the Reddit sub-forum /r/Elsagate and a bunch of articles – Youtube changed their guidelines and undertook a massive deletion of Elsagate content. Why it took them so long is anybody’s guess, but the attempt was seemingly in vain, because thousands of channels with millions of views still exist, and are still fucked up.

To be fair though, I found these channels because I was looking for them. How easy would it be for a young child, for example sitting with an iPad watching videos while their parents eat dinner, to stumble across these videos?

I started with something simple a parent might cue up for a kid – nursery rhymes. I started with the ABC TV Kids channel and kept clicking on related videos, the same way a young toddler with a tiny attention span might. It took about 8 or so videos until I came across something titled ‘Finger Family Collection’ – Finger Family being a weird Youtube Kids phenomenon. The video had the same, badly animated, uncanny valley aesthetic as Elsagate videos, but wasn’t disturbing.

Around 10 videos later – the content becoming stranger and stranger – I came across a thumbnail that depicted a scary looking, long haired woman (think Samara from The Ring) between two crying children. Jackpot! Titled ‘Kartun Lucu Upin Dan Ipin 2018, Rumah Hantu, The Best Cartoons The newest compilation Part 1’ the video depicts two strange baby characters exploring a haunted house (complete with unnerving horror soundtrack) and being terrorised by the long-haired ghost lady. Later, a humanoid creature in a straight jacket and covered in blood opens bursts through the door and hunts the two kids while they try to hide. The kind of shit that would give a toddler nightmares.

Nobody is really sure what the story is with Elsagate content. It’s definitely manipulating Youtube’s algorithms to get maximum ad revenue – hence the heavily automated and copy-paste nature. But automation shouldn’t be able to generate cartoons depicting a toddler spraying poison in her brother’s face, right? As it stands, it’s a problem inherent with how Youtube content moderation, monetisation and algorithms. While videos of Transgender men talking about testosterone (for example) get deleted en mass for seemingly no reason, videos with hundreds of thousands of views, that could genuinely harm kids, are allowed just fine.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be on Youtube – but if you’ve got younger siblings, you babysit, or whatever, maybe double check what they’re watching. Young kids are impressionable, and it’s hard to tell what kind of impact weird videos like this might have on them, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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