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In a posting on YouTube's offical blog, Johanna Wright, Product Management VP, announced the site has begun purging channels and videos it deems predatory or non-family friendly, resulting in some channels with millions of subscribers and views going dark.

Wright says the decision was prompted by “a growing trend around content on YouTube that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but is clearly not.

In recent months, several major advertisers have pulled ads from YouTube after discovering their placement on pages favoured by pedophiles and other unsavoury characters, some of whom left hundreds of comments on videos of scantily-clad children.

“While some of these videos may be suitable for adults, others are completely unacceptable, so we are working to remove them from YouTube,” Wright said.

At time of posting, more than 50 channels and “thousands of videos” have been removed. Other changes include age restrictions on certain content, making it available only to those over age 18, and the application of machine-learning technology to seek out potentially objectionable content for faster human review.

Among the advertisers reported to have pulled campaigns include Mars (M&Ms, Snickers) Mondelez (Oreos, Cadbury), and Diageo (Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker). An investigation by The Times in the UK is believed to have sparked the advertiser uproar, however the issue of questionable content on YouTube has long been a topic of discussion on online forums.

In a statement made to USA Today, Mars' US operation said it is “shocked and appalled to see that our adverts have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content”.

“We have stringent guidelines and processes in place and are working with Google and our media buying agencies to understand what went wrong. Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

Not every channel purged is sexual in nature: Toy Freaks, a channel with more than 8.5 million subscribers, was dropped because it reportedly posted content intended to gross-out children. Dozens of other channels appealing to kids have gone dark, which some observers estimate may account for upwards of 20 billion combined views.

Wright has promised five steps to confront the problem, such as tougher application of community guidelines set by the video service and faster response to complaints. Other measures include removing ads from inappropriate videos targeting families, blocking inappropriate comments on videos featuring minors, providing more guidance to content creators, partnering with so-called “experts” and “doubling the number of Trusted Flaggers we partner with in this area”.

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