When Free Hess said she found out that videos with disturbing messages were being uploaded to YouTube Kids, popping up in the middle of what initially look like innocent cartoons — she knew she had to do something.
She said she first saw them in July, after another mom told her about them.
"There's a lot of recordings that I have from various cartoons on there that are depicting everything from how to commit suicide, hanging, slitting wrists, trafficking, sexual exploitation, domestic violence on YouTube Kids," Hess told InsideEdition.com.
Hess reported the videos and encouraged others to do the same on her parenting blog, the Pedi Mom.
She said for a while nothing happened until a friend of a friend contacted someone they knew at Google — the company that owns YouTube. It took a week for the site to yank the video, she said.
An emergency room pediatrician at a Florida hospital, Hess worries that these types of posts may be contributing to what she perceives to be an uptick in children trying to hurt themselves.
"We're seeing a ton more children coming into the ER with self harm, suicidal attempts, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts," she said. Not only are the numbers increasing dramatically, but the age at which they're coming in and the age at which they're doing these things is decreasing significantly. I've had kids as young as 7 years old who have come to the emergency room after attempting suicide. So it's a huge thing."
The whole thing prompted Hess to see what else she could dig up. She got an eyeful — recording and screenshotting what she saw.
"I register as a child and I use them as a child," she explained. "And so I get all of my research from there and I see pretty horrific things from there.”
She continued: "I see grooming. There's tons of predators on there. Grooming of young children ... in minutes, you can start to see predators making comments."
Hess said that not everyone likes the fact that she is calling attention to this. Some social media users have resorted to harassing her online, even calling the hospital where she works, she said.
"If I could get them to understand YouTube overall did a better job of keeping YouTube Kids safe — that YouTube and that adult content didn't leak into YouTube Kids, we wouldn't even be having this discussion and we wouldn't be having any fear that their channels or their content would be pulled,” Hess said.
Hess added that she is not singling out YouTube Kids, but just wants to make the internet a safer place for children altogether.
"It's literally like opening your front door and saying, 'Please. Go right ahead.' Right into their bedroom," she said.
In a statement to InsideEdition.com, a YouTube spokesperson said in part, “We work to ensure the videos in YouTube Kids are family-friendly and take feedback very seriously. We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it possible for anyone to flag a video.
"Flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don't belong in the app are removed," the statement continued. "We’ve also been investing in new controls for parents including the ability to hand pick videos and channels in the app. We are making constant improvements to our systems and recognize there’s more work to do.”