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

Key Points
  • A new report from the New York Times says researchers have found watching erotic videos on YouTube and following the platform's recommendations can eventually lead to videos of young children. 
  • The report comes months after the discovery that pedophiles were using YouTube's comments section on videos of children to communicate.
  • Earlier this year, YouTube said it would disable comments from most videos featuring children.  
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.
Michael Newberg | 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 report, 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.

A YouTube spokesperson pointed to a blog post published Monday titled "An update on our efforts to protect minors and families."

The post outlined some changes made in recent months, along with newer changes, which include limiting recommendations of "videos featuring minors in risky situations." YouTube has also made changes to its machine learning classifier, which it said will help make it better identify videos that put minors at risk.

Read the New York Times report here.

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