YouTube showed gruesome horror film adverts on child-friendly videos, leaving young people distressed, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has revealed.
Trailers for the thriller Insidious: The Last Key – rated 15 in the UK and PG-13 in the US – were shown before videos about Lego and the Disney film Frozen.
One advert showed a fearful young woman lying on the floor covered in blood while a humanoid monster crept toward her and began to pierce her skin with its claws.
Another showed footage of screaming women and grinning, fanged demons which appeared suddenly in front of the camera.
The ASA has now banned the pre-rolls following three complaints it received from concerned parents whose children saw the clips, the agency announced this week.
YouTube blamed the film’s advertiser Sony for the mix-up, while Sony claimed the video sharing platform’s algorithms were at fault.
YouTube showed gruesome horror film adverts before child-friendly videos, leaving young people distressed. One ad showed a fearful young woman lying on the floor while a humanoid creature crept toward her and began to pierce her skin with its claws (pictured)
The ASA said the horror clips, which were unskippable for the first five seconds, were ‘irresponsibly targeted’ and ‘unduly distressing’.
It ruled the ad campaign was ‘excessively frightening and shocking, and were likely to cause fear and distress… without any justifiable reason’.
Fifteen-second trailers for the supernatural horror film were shown before child-friendly videos in late 2017 and January 2018.
Videos included clips of the video game Minecraft, which is popular among children, as well as instructions on how to build a Lego fire station and songs from Frozen.
A clip of the cartoon ‘PJ Masks’, which airs in the US and UK on Disney Junior, also featured one of the pre-rolls, the ASA said.
Columbia Pictures, trading as Sony Pictures Releasing UK, said it targeted the ads on YouTube to an adult audience.
Trailers for the thriller Insidious: The Last Key – rated 15 in the UK and PG-13 in the US – were shown before videos about Lego and the Disney film Frozen. Pictured is a grab from one of the adverts, which played over YouTube videos between late 2017 and January 2018
The company said it chose to exclude viewers below the age of 18 and prevent the ads being shown before content with unknown audiences.
Its agency also added a layer of safety by using further YouTube targeting, including exclusions of content suitable for families and keywords with appeal to children.
YouTube told the ASA that advertisers administered their own campaigns and were responsible for appropriate targeting and compliance with advertising regulations.
YouTube blamed the film’s advertiser Sony for the mix-up, while Sony claimed the video sharing platform’s algorithms were at fault
It recommended children view content through its protected app YouTube Kids, as this only displayed ads that had been through a rigorous review process and approved as family-friendly.
Sony Pictures Releasing UK said the ads had passed the advert approval system on YouTube.
Upholding the complaints, the ASA said the ads were excessively frightening and shocking, noting that three complainants believed the ads were unduly distressing for adults.
The ASA has now banned the pre-rolls following three complaints it received from concerned parents whose children saw the clips, the agency announced this week (stock image)
They also were not skippable until five seconds into the ads and did not contain any warning regarding their content.
It said: ‘For those reasons, we concluded that the ads had not been targeted appropriately and were likely to cause undue distress, and therefore were in breach of the Code.’
The ASA added: ‘We told Sony Pictures Releasing UK to ensure that future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children were appropriately targeted, and that similar future ads were targeted appropriately to ensure they did not cause undue distress to their likely audience without justifiable reason.’
WHAT HAS YOUTUBE DONE TO IMPROVE ITS MODERATION?
YouTube announced in December 2017 it would hire 10,000 extra human moderators people to monitor videos amid concerns too much offensive content was making it onto the site.
Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive of the video sharing site, revealed that YouTube enforcement teams had reviewed two million videos for extremist content over the preceding six months – removing 150,000 from the site.
Around 98 per cent of videos that were removed were initially flagged by the ‘computer learning’ algorithms.
Almost half were deleted within two hours of being uploaded, and 70 per cent were taken down within eight hours.
Miss Wojcicki added: ‘Our goal is to stay one step ahead, making it harder for policy-violating content to surface or remain on YouTube.
‘We will use our cutting-edge machine learning more widely to allow us to quickly remove content that violates our guidelines.’
Earlier this year, YouTube’s parent company Google has announced that from February 20, channels will need 1,000 subscribers and to have racked up 4,000 hours of watch time over the last 12 months regardless of total views, to qualify.
Previously, channels with 10,000 total views qualified for the YouTube Partner Program which allows creators to collect some income from the adverts placed before their videos.
This threshold means a creator making a weekly ten-minute video would need 1,000 subscribers and an average of 462 views per video to start receiving ad revenue.
This is the biggest change to advertising rules on the site since its inception – and is another attempt to prevent the platform being ‘co-opted by bad actors’ after persistent complaints from advertisers over the past twelve months.
YouTube’s new threshold means a creator making a weekly ten-minute video would need 1,000 subscribers and an average of 462 views per video to start receiving ad revenue.