‘Spider-Man,’ ‘surgery,’ ‘injection’ among blocked search terms as China cracks down on Elsagate

Society & Culture

Several months ago, the American public was made aware of a category of video on YouTube featuring disturbing, creepy content, variously depicting scenes of a violent, sexual, or frightening nature, and often disguised as kids videos, using characters such as Peppa Pig and Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen. “Elsagate” was thus born, evoking disgust and outrage — “Something is wrong with the internet,” reads this widely circulated Medium post. Facing widespread criticism of its failure to filter out this inappropriate content, YouTube said last November that it had terminated 50 channels and removed thousands of such videos from its platform.

The Chinese public recently learned it too had an Elsagate problem, prompting authorities to take action.

The National Anti-Piracy and Pornography Working Committee — a department under the State Administration of Press Publication Radio Film and Television — announced on its official Weibo account on Monday that it would target all videos harmful to children, including the use of beloved characters in “violent, horrific, cruel, and pornographic” acts.

The clean-up is part of a wider campaign to protect minors from inappropriate publications and information.

By Tuesday, a number keywords have been removed from search results, including — to give you an idea of the type of content depicted in common Elsagate videos — Elsa 艾尔莎 (Àiěrshā), Spiderman 蜘蛛侠 (zhīzhūxiá), surgery 手术 (shǒushù), and injection 打针 (dǎzhēn).

Elsagate deleted search terms
“Apologies, no search results for ‘injection’ videos.”

Tencent has blocked more than 4,000 keywords, as Global Times reports, and shut down 121 accounts. The company said on Saturday it has set up a team to monitor its video platform.


Elsagate first received public attention in China on January 16 when Weibo user @肉呆大魔王 published a full translation of a Reddit post, originally published two months ago, titled “A group of perverts are targeting kids on YouTube. I used to work for them.” Chinese Internet users quickly discovered that the disturbing videos described in the post were present on various video platforms in China, such as Youku, Tencent, and iQiyi.


At the center of the controversy is a Guangzhou-based video production company called Happy Disney (欢乐迪士尼 Huānlè Díshìní), though it has nothing to do with the Walt Disney Company in the U.S.. Several newspapers reported that the company began uploading these disturbing foreign-produced videos onto China’s major video platforms beginning in 2015.

While the company has deleted all of its channels, it remains under investigation. One screenshot shows a Barbie doll bleeding after it was stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors (warning: GRAPHIC). That video accumulated more than 16 million views on Youku before it was taken down.

Happy Disney also produced its own Elsagate videos. One former employee told Southern Metropolis Daily that workers had no control over the content they produced; their job was to film videos based on scripts sent by the company’s owner, and those who expressed concern were rebuffed.

Elsagate video screenshot
Screenshot from this now-age-restricted YouTube video