YouTube recommended videos of underage girls after users watched erotic videos, research finds

Researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University were examining YouTube’s impact in Brazil.

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By Megan Graham, CNBC

In the aftermath of the discovery earlier this year that pedophiles had infiltrated comment sections of YouTube videos with children, the Google-owned video platform disabled comments on many videos of children.

But researchers say disturbing patterns remain: A New York Times report published Monday said watching erotic videos and following the platform’s recommendations can eventually lead to videos of children.

The researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University were examining YouTube’s impact in Brazil. They said users who watched erotic videos might be recommended videos of women dressing as young girls, and eventually may be recommended videos of “girls as young as 5 or 6” wearing bathing suits or getting dressed, the report said.

According to the piece, YouTube’s recommendation system changed to no longer link some of the revealing videos together, but the company told the New York Times it was “probably a result of routine tweaks to its algorithms, rather than a deliberate policy change.”

YouTube also said that turning off its recommendation system on videos of children would “hurt ‘creators’ who rely on those clicks” but did say it would limit recommendations on videos it deems putting children at risk, the report said.

Later Monday morning, YouTube released a blog post detailing some of the steps it has taken in recent years to protect children including "limiting recommendations of borderline content to include videos featuring minors in risky situations."

The Berkman Klein Center didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the researchers will be publishing anything on the discovery.