Prominent LGBT YouTube content creators have become irate after discovering that YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” was automatically hiding their videos, regardless of the actual content.
“Just looked at my videos with the ‘restricted mode’ on. Seeing a bit of a theme here…,” said YouTuber NeonFiona on Twitter, noting that most of her hidden videos had the words “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual” in the title. She noted that none of those videos – such as “What People Say When You Come Out As Bisexual” – actually discussed sex.
According to Gizmodo, NeonFiona is far from the only LGBT vlogger experiencing this. Rowan Ellis, a queer YouTube personality with over 22,000 subscribers, recently posted a video criticizing YouTube for the practice. That video was promptly restricted.
Restricted Mode is an opt-in feature that works kind of like Safe Search, attempting to automatically filter “objectionable” content from search results. According to Google, it uses “community flagging, age-restrictions and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content.” It can be turned on or off on every page; however, it can also be locked into a permanently-on mode, a feature primarily intended to be used by parents and system administrators – for example, those at schools or libraries.
And as reported by PinkNews, many LGBTQ+ YouTubers believe that this could ultimately harm LGBT youth seeking to learn more about themselves or their peers, especially those who are limited in where they are able to access the internet. As trans YouTuber SeaineLove put it, she wanted young trans people to be able to “be able to watch my videos and go ‘Hey, I feel the same way! That’s how I am too!'” Seaine noted that most of her restricted content was “pretty G rated.”
NeonFiona added, “Kids who want to know about different orientations and definitions and about the history of LGBT people, etc, they can’t access that when their videos are being restricted. Restricting these videos makes it harder for these kids to find information they need and the community that they’ve been missing.”
Rowan Ellis took it one step further, noting that regardless of why it is happening, the fact that LGBT videos are restricted implies a bias in the system, equating LGBT content with “not family friendly.” She noted that no matter how unintentional it might be, the consequences can’t be ignored.
Google responded by stating that very few people actually use Restricted Mode, and that “subjects like health, politics and sexuality” might be restricted for anyone using the feature. But their own help page implies that the feature is being directly marketed to institutions such as libraries and schools, which as previously noted, could pose a problem.
Perhaps more to the point, the feature also uses “community flagging” to help gauge which videos should be restricted. It does not seem outside of the realm of possibility that certain groups and individuals might make a habit of flagging LGBT content and creators as “inappropriate.”
Ellis, meanwhile, maintains that the reasoning behind the restriction doesn’t matter – the problem is that it implies that there is something inherently offensive about LGBT content. Videos about LGBTQ+ life, love, history, friendships etc are no more inappropriate than videos with straight couples or telling the history of straight figures,” she said. “Yet they are apparently being treated differently.”
And there may be something to that. TubeFilter notes that NeonFiona’s video about having a girlfriend is restricted. Her video about having a boyfriend is still visible. Calum McSwiggan, a gay YouTube celebrity with over 69,000 subscribers, has only one video which is unrestricted. To be fair, plenty of his content definitely doesn’t meet PG-13 standards. But it also includes videos like “Stand Up To Cancer”, “The Lies Depression Tells You”, and “British Guys Try Weird Halloween Candy.” Irish YouTuber Melanie Murphy, with over 450,000 subscribers, found that her “We’re Both Bisexual” video was restricted, a video which she describes as “more PC than what you’d see on daytime T.V, and is educational/explorative in nature.”
[Featured Image by YouTube/Google]