TTP Report: YouTube Leads Young Gamers to Videos of Guns, School Shootings
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 16, 2023
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a new study that shows how YouTube’s recommendation algorithm pushed boys interested in video games to scenes of school shootings, instructions on how to use and modify weapons, and even a movie about notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Many of the videos—served to accounts that identified as nine- and 14-year-old boys—violated YouTube policies, and YouTube took no apparent steps to age-restrict the content. The study’s findings raise new questions about child safety on YouTube, which—despite being among the most popular platforms for teens—has largely escaped the intense scrutiny aimed at rivals like TikTok and Instagram over their impact on young people.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “It’s bad enough that YouTube makes videos glorifying gun violence accessible to children. Now, we’re discovering that it recommends these videos to young people. Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of Big Tech’s algorithms taking the worst of the worst and pushing it to kids in an endless pursuit of engagement.”
For this study, TTP researchers created four test YouTube accounts for minors—two for nine-year-old boys and two for 14-year-old boys—and established each account’s interest in video games by watching playlists composed entirely of gaming videos. The researchers then logged and analyzed the videos that YouTube’s algorithm recommended to these minor accounts, with one of each age group watching the recommended videos and one not engaging with them. The study found that YouTube pushed content on shootings and weapons to all of the gamer accounts, but at a much higher volume to the users who clicked on the YouTube-recommended videos.
These recommended videos included scenes depicting school shootings and other mass shooting events; graphic demonstrations of how much damage guns can inflict on a human body; and how-to guides for converting a handgun to a fully automatic weapon. YouTube even pushed a movie about the young life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer multiple times to minor accounts—despite the film itself carrying an R rating.
Many of the recommended videos violated multiple layers of YouTube’s policies, including the platform’s violent and graphic content policy, its child safety policy, and various aspects of its firearms policy. Additionally, YouTube does not appear to be exercising its stated ability to age-restrict certain content, such as videos showing “adults participating in dangerous activities that minors could easily imitate,” or videos containing “violent or graphic” material.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Violent video games have long been blamed for mass shootings in the U.S., despite no real evidence confirming the connection. Yet, YouTube’s algorithms seem intent on glorifying real-world gun use to boys as young as nine—at a time when mass shooters are trending younger and younger.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.