On Friday March 17th, YouTube rolled out a new thing called “Restricted Mode” – an optional feature to filter content. Google explained they used “community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content.”
The comments on YouTube (and the internet in general) can be a pretty negative experience. All that restriction sounds great, like it makes the internet less angry. The reality is that a lot of LGBTQ videos are included in videos that are restricted.
Filtering the Gay
YouTuber NeonFiona took screenshots of what she found in a search with and without the filter.
Just looked at my videos with the "restricted mode" on. Seeing a bit of a theme here…
— spoop queen (@neonfiona) March 16, 2017
— Natasha Negovanlis (@natvanlis) March 19, 2017
Her series, which is way less adult oriented than Buffy the Vampire Slayer is currently restricted.
Making It Harder Helps No One
I can tell you from personal experience how hard it is to find web series. Especially when it comes to finding PoC series. They don’t always have great websites, and they don’t even all have Facebook pages (which is a different rant du jour). Making it harder to find these videos is a massive disservice to a group of people who already feel marginalized and alienated.
The thing is, YouTube isn’t generally anti-LGBTQ. They’ve been a remarkably great place for non-mainstream media and self expression. Still, they now make it it hard for kids to find anything. As they say, “Computers in libraries, universities, and other public institutions may have Restricted Mode enabled by the system administrator.” Now they can lock out YouTube specifically, instead of using their own web filtering. This can be detrimental to people who can only look up these videos in libraries or at school.
In a past life, I worked at filtering content, and it was really really hard not to get false positives. Filter gambling and you accidentally blocked mlb.com, for example. By letting YouTube decide what gets blocked and what doesn’t, a school would be giving up their control and be unable to decide if they should block all neo-nazis or all hate speech, while allowing LGBTQ videos.
Unilaterally, the choice is made for everyone by YouTube who is using the ‘community.’ The exact same community that left so many horrible comments, that this had to be enacted in the first place.
The weirdest part about this, Google doesn’t say they’re blocking sensitive videos. They say they’re filtering “potentially objectionable content” but there’s nothing in there about politics, or sexuality, or health, all of which are what quite a lot of the censored videos fall under.
Responding to the claims, a YouTube spokesperson told Gay Times: “Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a very small subset of users who want to have a more limited YouTube experience.
“Some videos that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use this feature.”
Health is restricted content.
YouTube Needs to Revisit This
It’s really clear that while YouTube has good intentions here, letting you hide what you don’t want to see, they’ve taken too broad an approach. They’re blocking too much, too widely and too flagrantly. By lumping health and politics and sexuality, they’ve implied that those are bad things. And when you tell a people that they are bad for their sexuality, you hurt them, plain and simple.
Stop making it hard to find LGBTQ content.
It’s just that easy.