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Elsagate is a neologism referring to the controversy surrounding videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids that are categorized as “child-friendly”, but which contain themes that are inappropriate for children. Most videos under this classification are notable for presenting content such as violence, sexual situations, fetishes, drugs, alcohol, injections, toilet humor, and dangerous or upsetting situations and activities. The videos often feature popular characters from family-oriented media, sometimes via crossovers, used without legal permission; the term itself is composed of Elsa (a character from the Disney animated film Frozen, who is frequently depicted in such videos) and -gate (a suffix for scandals). However, the Elsagate controversy has also included channels such as Toy Freaks that do not feature child/family-friendly characters, but real children, and have raised concern about possible child abuse.
Most videos in this category are either live-action films or crude digital animations, although a few channels have been using more elaborate techniques such as clay animation. Despite YouTube’s age restriction policies, these videos are sometimes tagged in such a way to circumvent the inbuilt child safety algorithms, even making their way into YouTube Kids, and are thus difficult to moderate due to the large scale of the platform. In order to capture search results and attract attention from users, their titles and descriptions feature names of famous characters, as well as keywords like “education”, “learn colors”, “nursery rhymes”, etc. They also include automatically placed ads, making them lucrative to their owners and YouTube. Despite the objectionable and often confusing nature of these videos, many attract millions of views. While criticism of the channels themselves has existed since at least 2014, public awareness of the phenomenon grew in 2017, as mainstream media started to report about child safety on YouTube. That year, after reports by several media outlets, YouTube adopted stricter guidelines regarding children’s content. In late November, the company started to mass-delete channels and videos falling into the Elsagate category, as well as large amounts of other inappropriate videos or user’s comments relating to children.

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