High-profile Australian brands Coca-Cola, Optus, Woolworths, the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian government have frozen advertising deals with YouTube after it was revealed it unknowingly allowed softcore paedophilia rings to congregate in its comment sections.
Major media-buying groups IPG Mediabrands and Dentsu Aegis Network have paused deals with the video platform, The Australian Financial Review reports, joining US brands Nestle, AT&T, Disney and Epic Games.
The backlash is based on claims a community of potential child abusers used the Google-owned site to gather in the comments thread and share suggestive videos of children.
The videos contain innocent material such as gymnastics or children singing in front of a mirror.
But blogger Matt Watson exposed the dirty tricks used by the users, describing the actions as a “softcore paedophilia ring” operating in plain site using hidden methods.
The users often included suggestive remarks and highlighted parts of the videos that showed children in compromising positions.
Some of the comments included links to child pornography.
The method was used as a way for the perverted community to communicate with each other and, because of the way YouTube’s algorithms work, the site would then recommend similar videos to users.
Mr Watson said the glitch in the site’s algorithm meant users were able to find the content “in about five clicks”.
In the wake of the controversy, Coca-Cola, Optus, Woolworths, the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Government all confirmed to news.com.au they had paused advertising on YouTube.
A Woolworths spokesperson said “we’ll continue to monitor the situation closely with our agency partners and Google”, while a Commonwealth Bank representative said “we have suspended advertising on YouTube until this matter is fully investigated and resolved”.
An Optus spokesperson told news.com.au the company “takes the integrity of our brand very seriously”.
“Optus immediately paused use of YouTube marketing when we learned of the situation,” the spokesperson said.
“We have since been in discussions with YouTube on their management of this issue, and believe they are taking appropriate measures for an issue of this serious nature.”
The finance department also confirmed the federal government had paused its advertising arrangements with the Google site.
“The Australian Government’s master media agency, Universal McCann, advised that the comments function that accompanies YouTube’s video content appears to have been misused by third parties to encourage or facilitate inappropriate, predatory and exploitative behaviour,” the spokesperson said.
“As a result, advertising by non-corporate Commonwealth entities conducted within Australia on the YouTube platform was suspended with effect from 19 February 2019.
“The Australian Government, through its master media agency, has sought updates from Google (the owner of YouTube) on the steps being taken to address this issue.”
YouTube released a statement saying “any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube”.
“We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors,” the statement read.
“There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”
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