YouTube is cracking down on popular “challenge” videos that perpetuate dangerous stunts after the latest nonsensical fad led to car crashes and injuries.
The video-sharing network owned by Google announced Tuesday it was updating its policies to prohibit challenges that present “an apparent risk of death” or feature children participating in activities posing “imminent risk of injury or bodily harm.” YouTube also said it will draw the line with content that “intends to incite violence or encourage dangerous or illegal activities.”
A handful of high-profile YouTubers who participated in the “Bird Box challenge” prompted the policy change. They filmed themselves performing everyday tasks while blindfolded, drawing inspiration from Bird Box, a wildly successful Netflix movie in which people must keep their eyes shut to survive the apocalypse.
Earlier this month, YouTube celebrity Jake Paul filmed himself driving blindfolded and separately walking on a busy Los Angeles street with his eyes covered. Others have filmed themselves using exercise machines or running into walls. Last week, a Utah teen crashed into another car while driving blindfolded. It got so bad that Netflix issued a “don’t try this at home” warning.
Dangerous YouTube-inspired challenges, such as one that involved ingesting Tide laundry detergent pods, have sickened and hospitalized participants. Last year, detergent maker Procter & Gamble urged parents to prohibit their children from taking part.
YouTube’s revised guidelines also prohibit pranks involving home invasions and drive-by shootings, along with the so-called “fire challenge,” a years-old stunt that entails dowsing oneself with flammable liquid and lighting it. The challenge has resulted in the hospitalizations of several children.
Prank videos ranging from silly to dangerous have long been among YouTube’s most popular and problematic content. In 2017, the YouTube channel DaddyOFive was removed after a couple’s pranks on their children resulted in loss of custody and a conviction for child neglect. YouTube’s new restrictions ban videos that will “cause children to experience severe emotional distress, meaning something so bad that it could leave the child traumatized for life.”
The company is giving its content creators two months to clean up their channels.
Many parents and parenting experts say the restrictions are long overdue. Melissa Henson, program director for the Los Angeles–based Parent Television Council, told me that while some challenges are harmless and even fun, like the “water bottle flip challenge,” children are particularly vulnerable to dangerous stunts: “We know that they are highly influenced by what they see their peers doing and what appears on social media.”
Henson encouraged parents to talk with their children about challenges and pranks that show up in the news and why many of them are so dangerous. When it comes to YouTube, she advised applying parental controls, checking children’s viewing history, and regularly talking about what they are watching.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to a place where common sense holds no sway,” Henson said. “But that makes these requirements and updates all the more necessary.”