YouTube has been criticised for the impact a feature intended to block “potentially objectionable content” is having on LGBTQ+ videos.
YouTube has offered a “Restricted Mode” version of the site for several years. It is a filter that users can switch on to “screen out potentially objectionable content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see on YouTube”, and is marketed as a way for children especially to enjoy the site risk-free.
However, a large number of creators have recently pointed out that many videos featuring LGBTQ+ titles and themes are being unfairly censored, even when the content in question is child-friendly.
The first time that a wide audience were made aware of issues with the restricted mode was on 14 March when Keemstar posted a tweet claiming he had information on channels being secretly age-rated:
I now have proof via (Leaked Emails) that YouTube is in fact rating channels based on age. #YouTubeAgeGate
— KEEM 🍿 (@KEEMSTAR) March 14, 2017
Further backlash followed when many LGBTQ+ creators checked their channels with Restricted Mode turned on, and discovered many of their videos – particularly those with “gay”, “sex”, or “lesbian” in the title – were being blocked. The majority of these videos were educational or contained personal stories, and were not explicit in any way.
Just looked at my videos with the "restricted mode" on. Seeing a bit of a theme here…
— fiona ✨ (@neonfiona) March 16, 2017
What am I to do when I find out my videos where I mention being attracted to girls are restricted? It breaks my heart.
— Connie 🍑 (@noodlerella) March 17, 2017
— Rebecca Shoptaw (@rebecca_ish) March 19, 2017
Rowan Ellis, a self-described “feminist and queer perspective” vlogger, addressed the issue in a vlog on 16 March. She noted that when viewing YouTube in Restricted Mode, 40 of her videos were unavailable.
In the video, Rowan spoke on an issue that she believed to be one of the main explanations for the restriction: “It all comes back to this particular insidious idea, which has been with us for so long as part of our history, look at Anita Bryant, look at Section 28: the sexualisation of queer and trans people is still rampant.”
LGBTQ+ creator Calum McSwiggan experienced a similar issue, with all but one of his videos being affected, and uploaded a video containing his own thoughts on the issue:
On its support page, YouTube says it uses “community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content” in Restricted Mode — which is turned off across the platform by default — and videos that are unavailable in Restricted Mode can still be monetised. More information about the feature can be found here.
The filter has not been entirely all-encompassing, with Ingrid Nilsen’s coming out video being an example of one that has been left alone. However, almost all LGBTQ+ creators who have spoken on the issue have mentioned videos of theirs being blocked.
YouTube have yet to comment publicly on the accusations.
Update, 20 March 2017:
YouTube have responded to the allegations via a post from the YouTube Creators Twitter account:
A message to our community … pic.twitter.com/oHNiiI7CVs
— YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) March 20, 2017
.@YTCreators you're blocking everything with any hint of lgbtq+! Vids of me swearing aren't restricted but transwomen makeup tutorials are
— dodie (@doddleoddle) March 20, 2017
@YTCreators Step 1: Agree that there is a problem. Step 2: Suspend the program. Step 3: Thank creators for discovering this problem.
— Hank Green (@hankgreen) March 20, 2017
Just say "crap sorry we're looking into it". Don't make YouTube users feel like we're being gaslighted whenever we point out a problem. https://t.co/h9QPiojuyn
— Ellen Rose (@icklenellierose) March 20, 2017