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‘Profoundly disturbing’ paedophile phrases in YouTube autocomplete search bar

Variations on the sentence 'How to have s*x with your kids' turned up by some searches, but development could stem from a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Google-owned platform.

Appalling phrases linked to child abuse have started appearing in YouTube’s autocomplete search bar just days after some of the Europe’s best known brands pulled advertising campaigns from the site in response to revelations about how YouTube is used by fans of paedophile content.

Users of the platform reported that entering the words “how to have” into the site’s search box returns suggestions including variations on the phrase “How to have s*x with your kids”.

YouTube says it is now examining its auto-fill features and has called the revelation “profoundly disturbing”.

Its spokesman said: “We are investigating this matter to determine what was behind the appearance of this autocompletion.”

A report on BuzzFeed suggested that because some of YouTube’s search algorithms are based on popularity, the phenomenon might have arisen due to a coordinated effort by a group intending to cause YouTube embarrassment.

This comes just days after YouTube was widely criticised for failing to prevent predatory comments and accounts from targeting children. Investigations by the Times and BBC led to several brands, including Mars, Adidas, BT, Deutsche Bank, Lidl and Cadbury, pulling advertising from the site.

The site’s algorithms were even shown to have promoted content – including a video showing naked toddlers and another of a boy taking a cold shower – to users interested in YouTube footage of partially nude prepubescent girls in sexually suggestive scenarios.

Paedophiles used YouTube to try and repeatedly contact the children posing in these videos and directly encourage them to pose in an explicit fashion or perform sex acts. Much of the inappropriate content is understood to have originated from Russian-speaking countries.

YouTube has previously faced complaints about videos glorifying Islamist terrorism or promoting violent hatred towards Jews. Last week, the site’s management said they had noticed a growing trend around content “that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but is clearly not” in recent months and announced new ways it was “toughening our approach”.

Critics say YouTube is far too passive when it comes to rooting out abhorrent material and have called for a more proactive approach involving human moderators and flaggers.

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