YouTube Has a Teeny Foot Fetish Problem

Dec 03, 2013 at 7:41 AM ET

Aryn McConnell is only 14 years old, but she’s an active and adept user of YouTube. Especially when it comes to fending off the pedophiles who troll the site for child porn.

“People are sending me really bad messages and, like, being really dirty and stuff,” says Aryn in the YouTube video below. She nervously plays with her hair, adding: “So how ’bout all you perverts get off my YouTube account? Because me and my sister are not here for you guys to get horny.”

Like other children her age, Aryn used to pose and receive “dares” on YouTube with people who said they were fellow tweens. The dare exchanges—a sort of play-date for the digital age—are common among kids who find themselves bored after school. But in reality, many of the tweens engaging in challenges aren’t tweens at all; they’re “pervs”—Aryn’s word for them—on the hunt for a certain kind of child porn.

What do you think?

That porn is fetish-based. The “pervs” dare kids like Aryn to perform stunts—things like toe sucking, spanking, foot licking and showering with clothes on—on camera. And while many of the challenges appear innocent to the tweens, a look at the videos with a mature eye reveals the stunts are far dirtier than the girls believe.

Members of YouTube’s “Deputy Program,” an elite group of flaggers who accurately and repeatedly tag spam on the site, are increasingly more concerned about the nature of the dares and the frequency at which they’re requested. Most of the time, the challenges come in swarms. “Kids will get a flood of solicitations from a gang of pedos,” says one deputy who goes by anEthicalSociety on YouTube. AnEthicalSociety prefers to remain anonymous so that he/she isn’t “subject to a harassment campaign” from the pervs, but has flagged more than 1,000 dare videos as spam since 2009. (The deputy operates an entire YouTube playlist called “Pedos Busted.”)

It’s perv “inundation,” anEthicalSociety says, that’s most frightening. As an example, the flagger points to one 11-year-old girl, Jorja, who says she received 24 pervert messages in under six hours last week:

But it’s not just the deputies who are acquainting themselves with fetish requests. Children who receive dirty dares are starting to catch on too. Deputies often send messages through YouTube’s comment system to alert the tweens (90 percent of whom are girls, the deputies believe) that the challenges they accept come from pedophiles. When they do, the kids usually quit accepting new dares, they say. Some go as far as posting homemade videos in retribution, ones in which they name the men (or at least their YouTube personas) who’ve put them up to the stunts and advise their peers to avoid communicating with them.

Many girls still remain completely oblivious to the true nature of the dares, made worse by the fact that some pedophiles tell girls that their performances will help them receive “heaps of views.” That strategy works well on the highly impressionable tweens, many of whom believe they’re acting before a wide audience. Some girls like Arlyn do, in fact, have YouTube subscribers numbering in the hundreds.

This manipulative interweaving of dares and viewership is typical of child exploitation, says Rosemary Webb, president of Child Lures Prevention, a child-protection agency based in Shelburne, Vermont. While Webb hasn’t personally witnessed such dare interactions, she says these exchanges “don’t surprise” her. “Kids are so spontaneous, so impulsive,” she says. “They do things because of peer pressure and because they think these things are funny.”

One young girl by the YouTube name sdioo3 continues to accept many requests involving her feet, thinking the dares are a joke more than anything else. “Someone by the name of ‘Albert Einstein’ asked me to make a five-minute video about the soles of my feet,” she says to the camera in one video. While she calls his request “weird,” she goes on to lift her foot and place it behind her head to demonstrate her flexibility:

Another girl by the name Pladosh Leeb peels a banana with her feet:

And tween Britney describes a different sort of challenge—drawing a mustache above her lips with pink lipstick. While at first she says she received the request from one of her “viewers,” she quickly corrects herself, saying that she received it from one of her “friends”—she fashions herself a YouTube celebrity:

The YouTube team is making strides in stripping the platform of content related to kids and sex. In November, YouTube-owner Google cracked down on the accessibility of child porn on YouTube by filtering out obviously sordid footage and alerting those looking for porn that their searches were illegal. “While no algorithm is perfect,” wrote Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt in the Daily Mail in November, “[we’ve] cleaned up the results for over 100,000 queries that might be related to the sexual abuse of kids.”

But “dare” videos like the ones above aren’t explicit child porn—or at least the kind that would be blocked by a filter. Many times the videos don’t contain any nudity. What’s worse, they often have tame titles, things like “Dares!” or “Dares and Challenges!” This is why putting to bed “dare” content is a difficult responsibility. “Most research on the topic of online sexual exploitation of children only addresses solicitation of minors for sex or nudity/child porn,” says anEthicalSociety.

Many child protection organizations don’t know much about these online dare exchanges, let alone have the infrastructure to help those who are targeted. “This is not something we have had any experience with,” says David Beasley, spokesperson at Safe Horizon, a New York–based nonprofit against sexual violence.

When it comes to educating children about sexual abuse, fetishist dares don’t exactly factor into traditional health or sex curriculums. All the more reason, the YouTube deputy says, to be aware of the interactions taking place: “There are real people’s lives we can make a difference in, not just freeing up space on Google’s servers.”