A hot potato: Following a child predator controversy on YouTube, Epic has decided to pull its Fortnite pre-roll ads it was showing. Pre-roll ads are the short commercials (often skippable) that play before videos. Epic became aware that some of the content is being used by child predators to exploit children.
On Tuesday, it was learned that some YouTube content was being used by pedophiles in an exploitative manner. The videos themselves are not necessarily against the terms of service, but predators are using them to organize with once another and share links to child pornography.
Epic is one of several companies to take action against the content. On Wednesday, it announced it was halting Fortnite ads on the platform until YouTube addresses the problem.
“We have paused all pre-roll advertising,” a spokesperson for Epic told The Verge. “Through our advertising agency, we have reached out to Google/YouTube to determine actions they’ll take to eliminate this type of content from their service.”
The controversy stems from the discovery that certain videos on YouTube that target or feature children have been subjected to predatory comments. Former YouTube content creator Matt Watson exposed the problem. He calls it a "wormhole into a soft-core pedophilia ring on YouTube."
Watson explained that a search for something like “bikini haul,” which is where female YouTubers show various bikinis they have purchased, can lead to related “exploitative” videos of children. While the videos are not pornographic, they may feature children dressed in swimwear in displaying suggestive poses. In the comments, you can find where predators have left timestamps to parts of the videos that “sexualize” the children.
“YouTube’s recommended algorithm is facilitating pedophiles’ ability to connect with each-other, trade contact info, and link to actual child pornography in the comments,” said Watson. “I can consistently get access to it from vanilla, never-before-used YouTube accounts via innocuous videos in less than ten minutes, in sometimes less than five clicks.”
Epic is not the only advertiser that has pulled ads. Several other companies have halted marketing efforts on YouTube over the mess. Wired notes that stationary bike maker Peloton “was working with its media buying agency to investigate why its adverts were being displayed against such videos.”
It is also not the first time such an ad boycott has occurred. Similar movements happened when media outlets exposed terrorism and hate-filled content posted on the site. Another uproar resulted after PewDiePie posted a video that contained some anti-Semitic imagery. YouTuber’s humorously refer to these advertising bans as “ adpocalypse.”
As far as what YouTube plans to do about the situation, a spokesperson had this to say:
“We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling violative comments. Any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent, and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”
It is unclear if these actions and assurances are enough to get Epic and others to begin running ads again.