Online communities are no strangers to exploring conspiracy theories. From UFOs to elusive CIA projects, these topics often create unique message boards dedicated to users swapping theories and amateur research. While it’s rare for these discussions to escalate beyond fodder for late-night forum binges, at least one topic currently popular among the conspiracy community is leading to changes for a major website.
Youtube began in 2005 as a simple way for users to share their videos, but the service has since grown to include on-demand movie rentals, deals with music artists to market music videos, and content specifically created for the website by “professional youtubers.” A segment of this content includes videos specifically created for children, with cartoon series that straddle the line between education and entertainment.
Several weeks ago, users on 4chan and Reddit began exploring a specific genre of these Youtube videos which often featured recurring characters and themes. Frozen’s Elsa and Marvel Comic’s Spiderman were included in the videos which, while ostensibly designed to entertain children, often included bizarre or confusing content, gross-out jokes, and odd or imagery not suitable for the target demographic of toddlers and preschoolers. User speculations, which dubbed the event “ElsaGate,” ranged from the content being procedurally generated by AI in an effort to manipulate view counts and thus rake in more ad revenue, to more complex claims linking the videos to government-funded mind control projects.
While the exact origin and purpose of the videos is unknown, Youtube has responded to outrage over the content by enacting a wave of bans against the most prominent of the account associated with the genre of videos. Johanna Wright, Youtube’s Vice President of Product Management, announced the company had taken notice of videos that masquerade as family or child-friendly but failed to meet the site’s standards. In response, Wright revealed that the company had already purged 50 offending channels entirely, along with thousands of other videos that in many cases were discovered by users dedicated to researching “ElsaGate.”
Youtube’s quick response is obviously fueled, at least in part, by the sudden drop-out of companies whose ads had played before the offending videos. Diageo, the company behind Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker whiskey, along with candy and snack food giant Mars, were two of the most prominent to pull ads after catching wind of the offensive content. Mars, went on to announce through USA Today that they will not advertise via Google or Youtube until the issue is fully resolved.