YouTube tightens ban on 'dangerous' challenges and pranks

  • Google’s video sharing platform updated its guidelines on Tuesday to clarify that it won’t allow the publication of videos encouraging dangerous activities.
  • It came after a rise in people participating in the “Bird Box challenge,” where people perform activities blindfolded.
  • A YouTube spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday that content which caused serious distress to children would also be banned.
A general view of 'Bird Box' screening on December 19, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Paras Griffin | Getty Images
A general view of 'Bird Box' screening on December 19, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.

YouTube will clamp down on content that shows people engaging in dangerous activities or pranks that cause emotional distress.

Google's video sharing platform published guidelines on Tuesday to address a growing number of "dangerous" trends, including a recent spike in videos showing people attempting the "Bird Box challenge."

Inspired by the Netflix movie "Bird Box," the challenge involves attempting to perform tasks while blindfolded. It is known to have led to at least one car accident, where a teenager crashed her car in Utah while driving with a hat over her eyes.

In a public post on Tuesday, a community manager at YouTube said the platform was home to "many beloved viral challenges and pranks," but the company had a responsibility to prohibit content that encouraged harmful activities. The post noted that the Tide pod challenge — in which people filmed themselves eating pods filled with laundry detergent — and the Fire Challenge — which encouraged people to set themselves on fire — had caused death in some instances, and had "no place on YouTube."

"Our policies prohibiting harmful and dangerous content also extend to pranks with a perceived danger of serious physical injury. We don't allow pranks that make victims believe they're in serious physical danger — for example, a home invasion prank or a drive-by shooting prank," it said. "We also don't allow pranks that cause children to experience severe emotional distress, meaning something so bad that it could leave the child traumatized for life."

This included videos that tricked children into believing a parent had died or shamed young people for mistakes. YouTube said it would remove content that violated these policies, but it would give channels on its platform a two-month window before it began enforcing "strikes" for policy breaches.

A YouTube spokesperson told CNBC via email on Wednesday that the platform had long prohibited videos promoting harmful activities.

"We heard feedback from creators that we could provide some clarity on certain Community Guidelines, so we published materials detailing our policies against pranks that cause others to seriously fear for their safety or that cause serious emotional distress to children and vulnerable individuals," they said.

Netflix intervention

Netflix was forced to urge people not to imitate scenes from its horror film "Bird Box" after the popularity of the challenge continued to grow.

"Can't believe I have to say this, but: please do not hurt yourselves with this Bird Box challenge," the company said on Twitter earlier this month.

The challenge also prompted a warning from British police on Monday after a YouTuber posted a video of himself walking on railway tracks wearing a blindfold.

Early last year, detergent maker Tide — a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble — also issued a warning on Twitter to discourage people from taking part in the Tide pod challenge.