Poorly animated knock-off videos with popular characters from Disney cartoons, superhero movies, and kids TV are popping up across YouTube, and some of them have disturbing violence and off-color content, The New York Times reported in a front-page story on Sunday.
Some of those disturbing videos—Nickelodeon-inspired clips with names like “PAW Patrol Babies Pretend to Die Suicide by Annabelle Hypnotized”— appear in the child-oriented YouTube Kids app, although YouTube told the Times it responds to parent complaints and pulls inappropriate content. In the last 30 days, the company said that less than .005% of the videos in the children’s section were removed after they were deemed inappropriate.
Some of the ad-supported videos often stretch to over 30 minutes, and have titles that don’t reflect their content. More often, they are simply lists of common search keywords associated with children, like “learn colors” and “nursery rhymes,” as Mashable writes.
One example features a surreal mix of content: Captain America frolicking in a Candyland-style environment, the Incredible Hulk catching a crashing plane while a nursery rhyme plays, and Spider-Man and Frozen‘s Elsa exchanging automatic gunfire with The Joker.
The video has pulled in more than 5 million views, and the “Battle VS Death Battle” channel that hosts it has hundreds of videos that have together collected more than 480 million views, though it’s not clear how many of those viewers were children. Numerous similar channels also have view counts in the tens or hundreds of millions. (Many of those more violent and bizarre videos don’t currently appear to be accessible through YouTube Kids, only through the traditional YouTube website and app).
A YouTube policy imposed this year says that videos showing “family entertainment characters” being “engaged in violent, sexual, vile, or otherwise inappropriate behavior” can’t be monetized with ads on the platform. But on Monday evening Fast Company found at least one violent, unlicensed superhero video, entitled “Learn Colors With Superheroes Finger Family Song Johny Johny Yes Papa Nursery Rhymes Giant Syringe,” still included ads. A YouTube spokesperson didn’t immediately comment, but by Tuesday the video’s ads had been removed.
In another video, “Halloween for KIDS NERF! Johny Johny Yes Papa Nursery Rhymes Learn Colors with baby songs,” on the channel “Thomas CrazyShow,” shows a child driving a minivan when an alien spaceship lands and ghosts get out. He fights them with Nerf guns.
The videos may well draw ire from legislators, as Congress takes an increasingly close look at user-generated content online in the wake of Russian election manipulation. Congress and telecommunications regulators have in the past set standards for children’s programming on traditional television.
In a Medium post, tech writer James Bridle condemned the creepy videos, comparing them to other disturbing but apparently lucrative online content like hate videos and destructive conspiracy theories.
“I usually write on my own blog, but frankly I don’t want what I’m talking about here anywhere near my own site,” he wrote.
This post was updated at 12 p.m. ET Tuesday to reflect a new YouTube advertising policy.