The internet, which once was thought would take humanity forward and help it evolve to the next level, is now seemingly accelerating its destruction. Many of its platforms, still naively thought by many to be the young, exuberant media of entertainment and liberation they once were, have long since silently mutated into monsters threatening to damage and destroy all that we know of our civilization, our values and now, our children. A couple of months ago, James Bridle, a well known British writer and artist, wrote a rather lengthy Medium post on an inherently terrifying phenomenon now being known as Elsagate. If you have a child at home between the ages of 2 to 6, and if you let them watch a lot of YouTube videos, there’s news for you.
We all know how children’s content is probably the most viewed genre on YouTube. The red play button is such a kid magnet, so much so that Google thought it necessary to have a separate “YouTube Kids” app to keep kids “safe” from the unsavoury content on the regular YouTube. When children as young as two years learn to easily navigate YouTube’s UI and get sucked into its infinitely spiralling rabbit hole, have we ever thought what those little minds might encounter there? Do we know what they are watching? Yes, you hear cheerful music and see Spiderman on the screen, but is that really it? What if I told you that there are videos of a pregnant Elsa being molested by the Joker or baby Mickey and Minnie Mouse cutting off each other’s ears or cartoon toddlers doing unspeakable stuff with the tunes of “Daddy Finger” playing in the background? Yeah, just open your YouTube app and have a look. It is quite unlikely that parents have ever heard of this phenomenon poisoning their offsprings’ minds. Oh, and this shit is much worse on “YouTube for Kids”. In fact, it has a name now.
What Are Elsagate Videos?
Elsagate refers to the recent disturbing phenomenon where hundreds of thousands of bizarre live action and animation videos are proliferating on YouTube, featuring cartoon characters like Elsa (from the children’s movie Frozen), Spiderman, Joker, Batman, Venom, Disney characters, Peppa Pig etc or unnamed ones doing weird and horrific things (violence/sexual) usually deemed unsuitable for children. These videos are accompanied by catchy music and animations with bright, highly contrasting colours overlaying all kinds of inappropriate and horrifying settings. They are easily discoverable on YouTube through manipulation of keywords, SEO, comment and click farming, and botting. The motive behind this is said to be to maximise revenue through shock value, though there are a number of other conspiracy theories abound. These videos feature no storyboard or mostly make no sense, but just show random things happening in no order. Children who are left unsupervised on YouTube will inevitably end up watching Elsagate videos.
There are a lot of channels which feature genuine children’s content, but unfortunately, those too are being unfairly penalised by Elsagate videos. YouTube filters and policies seem to be useless in front of these videos.
To say Elsagate videos are “disturbing” is putting it mildly. Most of these videos start off normally enough, but as they go on, things start to get really weird. In the end, you will have no idea what is going on there. Elsagate videos are creepy, scary, gross, disgusting and horrifying, full of blood and urine with themes of injections, insects, violence, kidnapping, and even gore, sex, mutilation, scatology, suicide, death, paranormal horror and every other depravity imaginable. They show characters deliberately hurting each other, sometimes badly; Elsa, Minnie and other female characters being pregnant and getting assaulted on their stomachs; children being injected (and injecting), having their teeth pulled out and other unspeakable things are done to them, characters urinating and defecating on each other, horrors rising from under the ground, scary, terrifying images, evil masks and so on. And all this runs to the background of brightly lit, contrasting colours and cheerful music. Elsa and Spiderman are mostly paired for some reason, and Elsa is always pregnant, as is Minnie Mouse. Little children devour all these videos, one after another after another after another, for hours and hours and hours, falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, their little minds getting stuck in dark chambers of nightmares.
If the Internet had nightmares, this is what they would look like.
No, this is not some wild conspiracy theory. It very much exists, and is real, as you can see from all these screenshots. Even people who claim to have “seen it all” on many versions of the internet express shock and disbelief about the videos, their easy discoverability and availability. Though it was Bridle’s post that made it famous, this trend had come to the attention of the folks on Reddit almost a year ago. The subreddit r/Elsagate has been tracking this phenomenon for quite some time now and has been instrumental in making it popular among the more discernible internet users. More recently, international news outlets like BBC, Forbes and The Verge have covered the story. Shocked advertisers started pulling ads, and that was when YouTube woke up, banning accounts and pulling videos down by the hundreds and thousands. However, the problem is that these videos and accounts are resurfacing faster than they can be pulled down. But overall, YouTube or Google don’t care, because it is good money. Let that sink in. They don’t care for your kids, yo! What a surprise. Welcome to the new world order! :)
There is something terrifyingly confusing about this entire thing. There are literally millions and millions of these videos, each with hundreds of thousands or millions of views, and cumulative views in the billions. Their names are seemingly random meaningless word-salad-soups, meant only to make them show up in recommendation algorithms. All this makes it impossible to track or find what video is which, making it look like they can multiply and replicate at will. One gets a sinister feeling that there is no human hand behind all this, that this “phenomenon” seemingly exists in its own, self-sustaining ecosystem, a massive shapeshifting Hydra with seemingly no central command, able to bypass all checks and balances instituted by pathetic human cognitive systems. And it is, Elsagate content is all mass-machine-generated, mostly automatically. There has been some talk about automation and AI taking over the internet for some time, but the mainstream media has been trying hard to convince us that those events are still decades away. However, the existence of Elsagate videos shows that those times are already upon us.
Once upon a time, creations like these required a team of people, from directors and producers and scriptwriters to animators, editors and sound mixers, a script, screenplay focused on character development and so on, and then vetted by competent authorities and all that. In the liberalised times of today with the open and unpoliced Internet, it is a free-for-all. Predefined software generates these videos by populating pre-defined templates with auto-generated characters, then gives them word-salad names of most frequently searched keywords, uploads them to YouTube, uses click farms and bots to purchase views and comments, and you have Elsagate. Content quality simply does not matter, given its audience. If you look closely, those videos all feature the same things arranged in different permutations and combinations. What we are seeing is industrial-levels of automated mass-content production, impossible to control, curate or censor. It is terrifying to think what we have created.
Of course, there is grosser stuff present on the internet. The difference is that you have to know where to find it, and try really hard at it. Evil forces out to harm our children has always existed but were always relegated to the dark corners and shady alleys of our civilisation, punished severely if they ever reared their head in public. But today, the digital version of that evil is available freely out in the open, with the explicit intention of harming our children. And there is nothing no law or police will or can do about it, because the forces that create, propagate and protect it is outside the ambit of any law, because we have long since normalised such behaviour in the name of “everything goes for profit, humanity should recast their behaviour around it“. The world is changing, and with it, the basic tenets of our civilisation, including the philosophy that children should always be shielded from the general bad in the world. Generations have always believed in the general “humanity is inherently good” principle and somehow the altruism of technology (“tech will save humanity”), but we now know both are misplaced.
A lot of people only blame the parents for exposing their children to this crap, and rightly so. The concept of parenting itself seems to be a misfit in today’s new digital age of 24-hour connectedness and round-the-clock-work-and-socialising. People are only too happy to outsource their parenting duties to technology, whom they still believe to be benign and under their command. Why bother spending time with the kid when YouTube will shut them up and give you some much-needed free time to concentrate on your stuff? Kids everywhere, in India, are hooked to their parents’ devices all the time, and some parents even gift their tiny tots their own devices at ages as tender as five, either to keep them out of their hair, or, increasingly, as a status symbol. “My kid has his own iPad. He operates it better than I do, and he already is so smart, learning a ton of new stuff through it!” This said the content creators and the hosting platform should not be allowed to go scot-free under the grab of capitalistic virtue. As per the large corporation, your children are only collateral damage on the way to great profit. Today’s philosophy of anything becoming justifiable only because it means to an end is to turn a profit can no longer be the driving force of our times.
The monsters are no longer under your bed. They are inside your iPad. Big tech wants complete control of the lives of you and your family and even the sanctity of your house to maximise their profit, and will stop at nothing to achieve that. Your devices are recording every aspect and instance of your personal lives, through not just anonymous cookies and browser tracking, but through microphone and camera recordings. They know every detail of your lives, including what you say, where you go, who you meet where and what you tell them and your relationship with them. If they can turn a profit by handing over your data to anyone, unscrupulous or not, who might have the power to hurt you or your family, they will. Humanity has for long sincerely believed that “technology will make our lives better”. It really could’ve, given we were not blindsided and sidetracked into believing that the mobile phone ecosystem to somehow be that “technology”. The stories of our scientific advancement are mostly a sham, as technology has done nearly nothing to better conditions of humanity, but has recently only made it worse with climate change, widening inequality, etc.
#Elsagate is only a symptom of our changing times. Instead of bringing out the best things in humans, the internet seemingly has ultimately only served to amplify the worst in us, especially with social media, the most “democratised” part of the internet. Facebook has long since been an example of this, and recently Twitter, and now YouTube also. Maybe it is time to de-digitise to save our next generation, because the only defence we have against the big tech corporations wanting to enslave us, is ourselves. We should tune out, switch off, read more, post less, spend more time with our kids, listen and play with them, and keep the goddamn phone away, rather than shoving devices in their faces. No, what we should do is not “limit” screen time for our kids, but pull the plug altogether. No sacrifice is big enough when it comes to your children, which includes your social lives, your careers and your time. My kids do not have access to the internet in any form, no matter how benign the content might appear to be. We don’t even have cable or satellite TV. If we don’t control this now, we will be raising a generation of disturbed freaks who think it is normal to kick pregnant women in the stomach or worse. Much worse things will follow, and pretty soon, all that our civilisation had banished to keep the weak and the marginalised safe will be normalised, and then we all will be cut, sliced and sold for a profit.