Oh $h1t — There’s an Awful Lot of Swearing on YouTube

Matt Reynolds (@mbrit)
Jun 13 · 4 min read

Some of you may know that I have recently been working on developing an internet filter doodad that lets parents selectively filter what their children watch on YouTube.

One of the things the doodad does is a real-time analysis of the language used in YouTube videos. (It does this to determine an age-rating of PG, 12, 15, or 18 — any video that scores above the age you set for your child is blocked.)

One of the other things it does is it spits out just how much swearing there is in a given video — and it can also aggregate the amount of swearing across a channel. This is the analysis from PewPieDie — a YouTuber that I thought was just straightforwardly awful until I actually watched some of his videos and downgraded my expectations.

So, I asked Google for the top-rated videos in the UK across all categories in May 2019, and conducted an analysis against the “popular” swearwords enjoyed by UK schoolchildren in the playground, (but not enjoyed by their parents, anywhere).

Across the 2,147 videos across all categories, we get this:

…or to put it another way, nearly a quarter of top-charted videos on YouTube in the UK contained the word “fuck”. A. Quarter.

I knew YouTube was sweary, but I had no idea it was this bad.

Looking at gaming videos (416 of them), which both my children like, we see something even worse:

Really, creators? 43% of gaming videos need to have the word “fuck” in them? I don’t even need my kids hearing the word “shit”, but… 45.4% of the videos contained that. So basically a 50/50 chance that watching a video on gaming will expose my kids to the type of language I simply don’t want them hearing.

What about if I only let them watch more wholesome videos — like videos about kittehs and puppers and such? Luckily, pets ans animals (166) videos did a little better. Only 5.4% of videos contained the f-bomb. “Only.”

How about something more educational? Of 263 science videos, 3 of them contained the c-word. Because of course they did. Because what parent isn’t going to answer the question, “dad, can I watch a video on YouTube about science and technology” with “sure, go ahead!”

Here is a the analysis on one video that dropped the c-bomb. And it’s about fuc— freaking LEGO, and not even an unpopular type of LEGO. No, this is Avengers Endgame LEGO. Like, the most likely type of LEGO video you’re going to look for.

There is much more on this — including a breakdown of all ten categories with chart data — on the YouTube Parents website at https://ytparents.com/profanities-reports, and if you like, you can click through and explore the videos included in the analysis.

For me, I was surprised by this. YouTube has this singular problem that — as parents — we didn’t have growing up. The main broadcast channels had, you know, standards… Without any form of oversight, YouTube is always going to be a race to the bottom. I’ll be doing this analysis every month from now on — so at least we’ll know how fast we’re going. Any bets on when 100% of popular videos contain 18-rated profanities?

PS: Please don’t debate with me the “rating” of the swearwords used by the analysis tool. a) No two parents are going to agree on ratings, and b) it’s still a work in progress.

Matt Reynolds (@mbrit)

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Just some guy, you know?

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