LGBTQ+ videos are effectively being censored by Google, say a number of high-profile YouTubers. The accusations surround YouTube’s Restricted Mode and the belief that this is hiding videos with LGBTQ+ content from view, leading some to suggest that active censorship is taking place.
Google says that this limited mode exists to give people the option to avoid “videos that discuss more sensitive issues.” The blocking is supposed to be triggered by “community flagging, age restrictions, and other signals,” but YouTubers complain that even “innocent” videos that reference same-sex relationships, “queer perspectives” and other LGBTQ+ topics have been restricted.
It is worth pointing out that Restricted Mode is switched off by default, and is an opt-in feature, but this has not stopped a vocal lashing out at Google. The issue came to light late last week when prominent LGBTQ+ blogger Rowan Ellis posted a video explaining the problem. She says that 40 of her own videos have fallen victim to YouTube’s censoring, and she accuses the site of “filtering out a hell of a lot of LGBT content.”
In a boilerplate statement, YouTube responded to criticism by saying:
We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform — they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about. The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of our users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be. We regret any confusion this has caused and are looking into your concerns. We appreciate your feedback and passion for making YouTube such an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community.
YouTubers have been quick to jump on YouTube’s reply, pointing out instances in which videos which could not possibly be considered “mature content” or “sensitive issues” have been restricted:
.@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
Restricted Mode is not a new feature, but Ellis and others are “just starting to realize the extent” of what it does. In a slightly expanded statement given to the Guardian, a YouTube spokesman said videos “that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear” when Restricted Mode is enabled.
Under the #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag, a strongly-worded debated unfolded as people tried to determine why YouTube was deeming so many LGBTQ+ videos to be mature or sensitive in nature. One YouTuber, Melanie Murphy, was disturbed to find that in filtering her videos about bisexuality, YouTube was making her appear straight:
With the click of a button YouTube’s restricted mode makes me appear straight. Even when you dig/type in my name + bisexuality, this happens pic.twitter.com/JKbivanJdS
— Melanie Murphy (@melaniietweets) March 19, 2017
It remains to be seen what, if anything Google will do, and what it means by saying it is “looking into your concerns.” It’s surely only a matter of time before algorithms are pointed at as being to blame.
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