China has ordered video sites to clean up disturbing clips featuring popular children’s cartoon characters in sexual and violent situations.

After Western media reports last year drew attention to videos on YouTube featuring beloved characters in disturbing situations, the company cracked down on the genre by age-restricting the content and preventing creators from monetising the clips.

Photo: Screenshot/Beijing News.

YouTube told BuzzFeed in November that it has terminated over 270 accounts and removed over 150,000 videos.

“ElsaGate” videos appear to lure children into watching clips featuring iconic characters such as Peppa Pig, Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, and Spiderman in situations involving graphic animated violence, toilet humour, and sexual content.

China’s National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said on Monday that it had launched a nationwide campaign against the videos, according to China Daily.

Photo: Weibo.

“We’ll keep an eye out for whether those websites carry out self-examination and clean up the videos. Any company that fails to fulfill its corporate responsibility and continues distributing the videos will be severely punished,” the state newspaper quoted the authority as saying.

People’s Daily reported that the authority ordered video platforms to carry out a thorough inspection of children’s videos. It said sensitive keywords such as “child cult film” and “Elsa got pregnant” should be banned from all search engines.

According to state media outlet China News, many clips had been re-uploaded onto Chinese video platforms from YouTube, but others were created domestically, including some clips depicting real people. Some videos involved youngsters being beaten with rulers and children giving each other injections.

Chinese video platforms Tencent video, iQiyi and Youku announced on Saturday that they had started removing such videos.

Photo: Wikicommons.

Tencent said it had disabled 121 accounts, banned over 4,000 keywords, and is continuously monitoring and taking down the content. It added that it discovered “large-scale malicious uploading activity” in its investigation and said it will report such activity to relevant departments in order to hold them legally accountable.

According to China Daily, a story posted on a Reddit page for “original horror stories” two months ago that was translated into Chinese drew concerns from Chinese parents about the videos. The piece purports to detail the author’s experience working for a company producing such videos.

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Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.