What Am I Seeing?

by John Holbo on November 7, 2017

BoingBoing sent me here. Then I was down the rabbit hole to this. This was an interesting explainer. But then this (I watched so you don’t have to. Really, you probably don’t want to.) I’m struck by the weird parallel with the story I linked in my previous “What Can I Say?” post. Failures across cognitive platforms and all. It’s the combination of randomness and infectiousness that is so skin-crawling. If only a few kids found and watched these videos, that would be one thing. It’s not surprising that kids like to watch weird, violent gross-out stuff to do with toys. If your kid acted out some of this stuff with toys it would just be funny. Dr. Hulk needs to give the Minion a shot because he cut his foot, or whatever. But somehow the algorithmic weaponization of that is just alarming. So pardon me while I have a moral panic. The clowns aren’t helping. (I hope I can laugh about it in 20 years. “Remember how, in 2017, everyone thought YouTube Kids would warp little minds? And, by the way, it turns out President Pregnant Spider-Man isn’t really authoritarian, he’s more just incompetent.”)



Hashim Warren 11.07.17 at 1:45 pm

I remember letting my kids watch and seeing one of the videos act out gross vomiting. Ever since then those videos have been banned


nastywoman 11.07.17 at 2:05 pm

”It’s the combination of randomness and infectiousness…”

– which tends to ”wins” -(in this century) in THE homeland – and it’s kind of weird that nobody on here ever complained that ”Democrats” are just NOT ”weird” enough – to beat the craziest of all F… faces – and that Kidneystomes girlfriend just couldn’t…vomiting well enough” to win any US erection…?


areanimator 11.07.17 at 2:54 pm

Combined with the article on the Trinet this creates a picture of Internet-based artistic production warping into an increasingly inbred cottage industry of algorithm-chasing low budget studios fighting for the scrap from the Big Three’s table. Talk about being wierd enough.


bob mcmanus 11.07.17 at 3:08 pm

Well yeah, the toxicity is all accelerating outa control. All of it. Going viral. Metastasizing even. Nothing is gonna stop it. Well, death maybe. I give us years, but not decades.

Hartmut Rosa is worth reading. Or William Burroughs.


Abby 11.07.17 at 5:04 pm

Sometimes when I see things like this I think that artificial intelligence is already out there, making use of our uploaded DNA source code and published psychology and neurobiology papers, testing us in some sort of reverse Turing test on fora such as youtube animation, wikipedia and reddit, learning our capabilities and weaknesses and deciding what to do about us, to us.

Then I go take some more lithium … and consider writing a dystopian sci-fi story.


nastywoman 11.07.17 at 5:37 pm

– and about ”The clowns aren’t helping.”

they don’t help at all – in the case of the children – but in the world of the ”Grownups” the ”Evil Clowns” currently – get their biggest ”helping” from the ”Good Clowns” –
(or let US call them ”Comedians”?) –

And as the so called (very) ”serious people” have completely failed in stopping the Utmost Evil Clown – as they also have completely failed in protecting ”our children” from the darkest sides of the Intertubes and sorry to say:
NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH for the nastiest and greediest of all exploiting F…faces – who target children – an NO FREEDOM for their ”Komplizen” at F… book or Google.

AS these guys know better than – for sure – anybody here where the sick dough is coming from in order to poison some children.

Let’s do it the ”Right’s” way and let them suffer what the F…faces are suggesting: To (re) install ”law and order” – (at least in the Kindergarten)


kent 11.07.17 at 6:01 pm

I clicked through some of the example videos and watched a few seconds here, a few seconds there. It is a bit disturbing, for sure!

A question, though. Youtube is a place where anyone can upload, more or less, anything at all. Is there some reason we should be surprised that some weird shit that is not appropriate for toddlers (or other children) (or anyone at all really) ends up there?

Maybe there needs to be a big flashing sign when you enter Youtube … “THIS SITE IS AGE RESTRICTED. YOU MUST BE 17 TO ENTER”…? or something like that.

Set up a second, curated site for the kiddies?

Just a thought….


Lee A. Arnold 11.07.17 at 7:16 pm

I found this story too! I was horrified to find a bot-generated cartoon entitled, “Peppa Pig Drinks Bleach for the First Time.” It’s got almost 85,000 views. This is very dangerous. YouTube is going to have to police it:


Kevin Hayden 11.07.17 at 7:59 pm

The constant daily exposure to weird, gross bloody stuff (and coupled with the monetization of it!) does cause me the concern that it can cause an unhealthy level of neural numbness.

I mean, imagine if the kids get exposed to 60 admirals being bribed, the breakdown of mandatory reporting of violent offenders, the dismissal of 27 lives as necessary collateral damage in pursuit of human freedom, the international spy ring of a Billy Goat Gruff after a 40 year violent crime spree against actresses, and the bot-creation of Carter Page all in a 48 hour period.

Sociologists will be weeping for years.


Pavel A 11.07.17 at 10:05 pm

This is due, at least in large part, to the “ethics-neutral” or more accurately the “ethics-free” nature of Capitalism and technology.


tl;dr: technology (social media, big data, machine learning, etc) has implicit ethical and social consequences that we basically don’t discuss because technological progress (and the underlying free-market drivers) are supposed to be at worst “neutral”. This is of course, not the case.


Andrew Hamilton 11.07.17 at 10:43 pm

Been getting ready for snow, making sure axes and other random items are under cover, cleaning out space in the garage, so only gave it about five minutes.

But that far this looks to me like a logical extension of the Sesame Street idea that having a Dracula puppet repeat numbers or letters somehow advances literacy. Didn’t Sesame Street get prizes or at least respect for that? Maybe something awful happens toward the end of the cartoon, but so far it seems to me that the real problem here is an assumption that having children stare at odd creatures on screens will teach them something. It looks like a waste of time rather than something to think about.

Spoken as someone who used to drop by Jernigan’s Market and let his toddler buy Garbage Pail Kids bubble-gum cards, and who almost lost custody when this was revealed to the family court judge. Hey, at least the kid got some bubble-gum.


phenomenal cat 11.07.17 at 11:15 pm

You’re trailing behind the cutting edge here, Holbo. The underemployed, computer savvy neo-reactionaries over at 4chan and r/conspiracy have been on the case for a while now.


Andrew Hamilton 11.07.17 at 11:56 pm

Learned philosopher Hoblo
Wondered if playing to kids’ kidness was a yet lower low blow
Wonder what he would have thought
If he was a dad in the ’80’s and all his kid wanted for Christmas was Snot®


John Holbo 11.08.17 at 12:02 am

“Learned philosopher Hoblo”

And it scans even better if you spell my name right!


John Holbo 11.08.17 at 12:08 am

Nasty woman, you are fading in and out. Are you doing ok?

Over on Facebook I joked that it’s like 2001, if the crew were 4-years old and Hal were Pennywise.

Upthread everyone is noticing that the whole business is suggestive of a really rather original sub-genre of dystopian fiction. I guess I’m imagining a Cthulhu version of the Family Finger song. The creators of these videos think they are doing it for the clicks, but dark forces are puppeting them, in effect. There are five great tentacles, the Daddy Finger, the Mommy finger, etc. “How do you do?” I think it’s got a Stephen King, sing-song vibe, a a story idea.


Andrew Hamilton 11.08.17 at 12:36 am

Rule 1: You can sacrifice the naming in the first line to the second line setup
Rule 2: That it doesn’t have to scan is the whole point.


Matt 11.08.17 at 2:49 am

This looks like the Scramblers making first contact via YouTube. No doubt Peter Watts would have written this in the original draft for the novel, had YouTube actually existed at the time.


John Holbo 11.08.17 at 3:50 am

Yes, Peter Watts totally!


Whirrlaway 11.08.17 at 5:59 am

In computer jargon, a demon (or daemon) is a long-lived program that runs by itself detached from any human operator, such as a printer demon that handles the print queue. What you are describing is the same, metastasized and served by humans. Deserves a bigger name: say, throne or principality.

Walter Wink was a progressive theologian who attributed spiritual (not supernatural) qualities to entities in the mind-affected world. They have no “soul” or proper intention, but they are capable of being genuinely “evil” and are quite the sort of thing Jesus dealt with. Wink said that such powers need to be confronted from a spiritual basis, which the secular world is more or less tautologically incapable of organizing around.


nastywoman 11.08.17 at 6:15 am

”Are you doing ok?”

No! –
had to watch ”cuddling elephants” – animalporno – AND the wedding-video from Iceland to recover from the ”What Can I say-Threat…
So can’t say much… anymore…?


SusanC 11.08.17 at 10:20 am

I read the articles denouncing this stuff before I watched any of the movies, and when I finally saw them I was surprised by how good they were — IMHO, better than most of the kid’s cartoons you see on network TV, and better than the bottom end of the movies on the Horror Channel. (e.g. I thought these cartoons had most of Eli Roth’s output beat. Cabin Fever III made no sense at all, even at a cartoon level).

I’m unsure if they’re suitable for kids or not — that I’m comparing them to Eli Roth movies is possibly a hint that they aren’t.

On the other hand, official Disney content like Frozen is pretty dark in places. (Domestic violence between Prince Hans and Anna; the scene where Elsa turns the world to ice; the fight in the ice castle — that’s all canon, without needing to read the fanfic)


SusanC 11.08.17 at 11:04 am

Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt seems remarkably prescient, given that it was first published back in 1950.


nick s 11.09.17 at 2:38 am

Set up a second, curated site for the kiddies?

The supposedly family-friendly YouTube Kids is what’s under discussion.

Not-for-kids content on YouTube is not really the issue here. The issue that Bridle addresses is what happens to ad-funded, attention-driven platforms that rely upon best-guess “related content” and “you might like” suggestions to keep people around (and not elsewhere) when the tech barriers to creating sorta-related and sorta-creepy content have dropped. It’s about the refusal to point users elsewhere (see “the Trinet”) and the reliance on fuzzy inscrutable modelling of relatedness.

We understand what the text version looks like: content mills, conspiracy theories and fake news. We’re starting to see what the audio and video versions look like.


bob mcmanus 11.10.17 at 11:53 am

Well, after a couple days reading,I want to add to Hartmut Rosa and William Burroughs…Paul B. Preciado who says the paradigms for understanding our century are gender, pharmacology and…pornography. Now we can look at YouTube Kids and see how it formally and functionally compares to the Internet pornography sites and content. Repetition, fast editing, and narrowcasting come to mind. Lack of history. Interchangeable parts, Azuma’s databases of tropes and qualities. Then we can go on to the various politics sites.

Wark on Preciado:”This is the age of the Soft Machine.” I still like the Burroughs discovery that viruses are injected for mind control.


JDHE 11.10.17 at 3:42 pm

@4 Hartmut Rosa sounds interesting, thanks!

@10 Well said.

@23 “We understand what the text version looks like: content mills, conspiracy theories and fake news. We’re starting to see what the audio and video versions look like.” Also well said.

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