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  • Elsagate

    Elsagate is a neologism referring to the controversy surrounding videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids that are categorized as "child-friendly," but which contain themes that are inappropriate for children. Most videos under this classification are notable for presenting content such as violence, sexual situations, fetishes, drugs, alcohol, injections, toilet humor, and dangerous or upsetting situations and activities.

    Most videos in this category are either live action films or crude digital animations, although a few channels have been using more elaborate techniques such as clay animation. Despite YouTube's age restriction policies, these videos are sometimes tagged in such a way to circumvent the inbuilt child safety algorithms, even making their way into YouTube Kids, and are thus difficult to moderate due to the large scale of the platform. In order to capture search results and attract attention from users, their titles and descriptions feature names of famous characters, as well as keywords like "education," "learn colors," "nursery rhymes," etc. They also include automatically-placed ads, making them lucrative to their owners and YouTube. Despite the objectionable and often confusing nature of these videos, many attract millions of views.

    Elsagate channels have existed since at least 2014. In June 2016, The Guardian published an article about the channel Webs and Tiaras, which had been created in March of the same year. Apparently based in Canada, Webs and Tiaras had become in two months YouTube's third most-viewed channel with about 1.7 billion views. The channel showed people dressed as characters like Spider-Man, Elsa, and the Joker engaging in bizarre or nonsensical actions; the videos had background music but no dialogue. The article also reported that several near-identical channels, named Toy Monster, The Superheroes Life and The Kids Club had appeared on YouTube. The popular YouTube channel h3h3Productions made several videos throughout 2016 and 2017 analyzing channels that would later be implicated in Elsagate, which helped raise awareness about the issue early on.

    Also in February, The Awl published an article on Webs and Tiaras and similar channels, describing their content as "nonsensically nightmarish" with titles like "Frozen Elsa gets CHICKEN FEET!", "Frozen Elsa gets BRAIN BELLY!", "Frozen Elsa & Anna TEAR SPIDERMAN APART!", "EVIL SANTA KIDNAPS Frozen Elsa & Spiderman!", or "Frozen Elsa FLUSHES Spiderman in Toilet!". The website commented that the videos were "pretty twisted for children's content: some videos involve Elsa giving birth, and in some others, Spider-Man injects Elsa with a brightly colored liquid. You half expect the scenarios to be porn setups." In most videos, the like and dislike options were disabled, making it impossible to know how many users were actually engaging with them. Many videos featured hundreds of comments in gibberish, some being written by similar channels in an apparent attempt to attract more clicks.

    The term Elsagate was coined on the Internet in 2017. During the summer of that year, it became a popular hashtag on Twitter as users called attention to the presence of such material on YouTube and YouTube Kids. On Reddit, an Elsagate subreddit (r/Elsagate) was created on June 23 to discuss the phenomenon, soon attracting tens of thousands of users.

    The New York Times found that one of the channels featuring counterfeit cartoons, Super Zeus TV, was linked to a website called, registered in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A man working for confirmed that his partners were responsible for the videos, on which "a team of about 100 people" were producing. Subsequent requests for an interview went unanswered.

    On November 22, BuzzFeed News published an article about unsettling videos that depict children in disturbing and abusive situations. The information on the article came with the assistance of journalist and human rights activist Matan Uziel whose investigation and report to the FBI on that matter were sent on September 22, informing its leadership about "tens of thousands of videos available on YouTube that we know are crafted to serve as eye candy for perverted, creepy adults, online predators to indulge in their child fantasies.

    In August 2017, YouTube announced its new guidelines on content and monetization. In an ongoing series of efforts to demonetize controversial and offensive videos, it was announced that creators would no longer be able to monetize videos which "made inappropriate use of family friendly characters." In November of the same year, it announced that it would implement "a new policy that age restricts this content in the YouTube main app when flagged". On November 22, 2017 YouTube announced that it had deleted over 50 channels and thousands of videos which did not fit the new guidelines. On November 27, the company said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that it had "terminated more than 270 accounts and removed over 150,000 videos", "turned off comments on more than 625,000 videos targeted by child predators" and "removed ads from nearly 2 million videos and over 50,000 channels masquerading as family-friendly content". Forbes contributor Dani Di Placido wrote that many problematic videos could still be seen on the platform and that "the sheer volume of videos hastily deleted from the site prove that YouTube's algorithms were utterly ineffective at protecting young children".