YouTube marks horror video as “for kids” and doesn’t let the creator change the rating

YouTube thinks dark and scary
Enlarge / YouTube thinks the dark and spooky Local58TV series is for kids.

Google’s wonderful content moderation bots are at it again. After previously including things like suicide instructions in a kid’s video and the whole Elsagate issue, YouTube now labels a horror video as “for kids.” The worst thing is that this is against the will of the Creator. The video was previously marked as “18+” and YouTube has decided that it is intended for children and will not let the YouTuber restore its content rating.

The video in question is from the horror series Local58TV. The creator, Kirs Straub, reviewed his account over the weekend and found that his content not suitable for children was detected by YouTube’s content moderation AI and automatically flagged for children.

“For kids” in this context means that Google has flagged the video for inclusion in the “YouTube Kids” app, a separate interface for YouTube intended to only display a “safe” curated portion of YouTube. The “kids” flag also means the video must comply with the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), so comments are disabled.

Local58TV has millions of views across its nine videos and is famous enough to have a Wikipedia page. The station’s about page describes itself as “ANALOG HORROR AT 476 MHz. Disturbing short films in Kris Straub’s found footage/VHS aesthetic.” The station’s most popular video, “Contingency,” is a fake public service announcement by the US Department for the Preservation of American Dignity. The message set for an ultra-spooky rendition of That Star speckled banner, declaring that America lost the war and was forced to surrender. However, before the occupiers arrive, you can “take America with you” by murdering/suicidal your family. The video continues with instructions. This is obviously not the kind of channel for kids!

YouTube, this title doesn't mean what you think.
Enlarge / YouTube, this title doesn’t mean what you think.

However, YouTube doesn’t get the Local58TV vibe. An episode titled “Show For Children” was automatically marked as for children. You can see how an AI bot might be crossing wires on this title, but the description immediately says “Not for children,” and creator Straub originally set the video’s age rating to 18+ when it was uploaded .

The sequel is a black and white cartoon in which a cute cartoon skeleton wanders around a cemetery in search of the skeleton of a cute cartoon friend, only to find horrifying, more realistic skeletons and other creatures in the open graves. At the end of the video, seemingly from depression, the cute skeleton lies down in a grave and dies, transforming into a realistic skeleton. The cartoon is something an AI bot might not understand, but a human could immediately tell that the disturbing video is not kid-friendly. YouTube certainly isn’t hurting the money after making $28.8 billion in revenue last year, but it’s not hiring a significant number of human moderators.

Not only did YouTube mark a video that is specifically marked as “not suitable for children” as “Made for Children,” it also doesn’t allow the YouTuber to undo it. The content of the video is now labeled “Made for kids (set by YouTube)” and Straub is being forced to appeal to YouTube to have the video’s age rating corrected.

Even if you use robots for moderation, it makes no sense for YouTube to be in that position. With every single video upload, YouTube asks whether a video is kid-friendly or not. Since YouTube already has this data, it’s not clear why it would ever attempt to automatically categorize videos, particularly by downgrading an age rating that’s explicitly set to “adults only.” When it comes to something as delicate and subjective as whether or not certain content should be viewed by a child, Google seems to have to play it safe.

🎵 One of these things is not like the others!  One of these things is not one of them!  🎵
Enlarge / 🎵 One of these things is not like the others! One of these things is not one of them! 🎵

At press time, Straub went public with the issue 20 hours ago and it hasn’t been resolved. The Twitter account “Team YouTube”. said it “investigated” the complaint nine hours ago. You can tell the video is still marked for kids because the comment section is disabled and the “Try YouTube Kids!” option is disabled. Ad at the bottom. You also only get suggestions for other “kids” content that, at first glance, doesn’t contain as much death as the usual Local58TV content.