Oh YouTube. The true beginning of my exposure to social media. I spent a good amount of 2011 watching song parodies, vlogs, and skit content and I have been hooked ever since. I am certainly not the only one. Ever since its activation in February 2005, the site’s popularity and user population has been skyrocketing. In 2016, six out of ten people said they preferred the online video platform to live television (Smith). Every year the statistics get higher and more shocking. However, recently YouTube has been under controversy due to updated policies. Earlier this year, YouTube updated their monetization policies and cut creator income on videos that included swearing, politics, and other themes (“Advertiser”). As a platform that claims to encourage equal opportunity to be heard, these new qualifications were troubling and appeared to be an attempt at censorship.
Now, they have updated the filters on their “Restricted Mode” and a new controversy has evolved. Restricted Mode is an optional setting on YouTube that filters out “potentially mature” content (“Disable”). However, the results of this update and YouTube’s response to the confusion have been disturbing. In Restricted Mode, with the new filters applied, a video about a creator’s experience as coming out as gay would be removed but videos containing white supremacy views would not be. A variety of questions arose: “What keywords are these filters blocking? Why were creators not given any forewarning or guidelines on what types of content would be blocked? Why is YouTube doing this?”.
Screenshots began to appear on Twitter of entire accounts related to sexual education, politics, random videos, and simply those of LGBT+ people disappearing on restricted mode (Fiona). YouTube continuously advertises itself as an all inclusive, safe space that values all of its creators. They have celebrated Pride Parades and when same sex marriage was legalized in 2015, they celebrated publicly. But now, in the same breath, they have released a settings option which seems to be targeted at younger viewers which blocks LGBT+ content. This sends the message that LGBT+ content is not okay for kids.
This censorship of LGBT+ content from children is, unfortunately, nothing new. LGBT+ people are censored in many ways from children (Dowrey). Libraries and sexual education courses in school rarely offer educational resources for these topics. Students are taught about the civil rights movement in America but chapters about the struggle and oppression of LGBT+ people are not included. The subject is so politically charged with the taboos such as religion and sex that it is deemed as something that is not safe for children. The outrage over restricted mode consumed YouTube. Creators began to post videos explaining the controversy to their viewers. YouTube stayed quiet for a couple days. Then, they released this statement (Creators):
Don’t you just love the purposefully vague language? There are a few theories about why YouTube is doing this especially considering their history of supporting LGBT+ creators. One theory is that it is trendy for companies to support the LGBT+ community so YouTube jumped on that bandwagon. This makes sense since a lot of YouTube’s users are young people. However, YouTube has received complaints from advertisers about the types of videos that their ads are played before. Advertisers do not want their product to be associated with certain content and creators. To combat this and appease advertisers, YouTube updated their Restricted Mode.
Overall, this is an issue of censorship. YouTube can not claim to be supportive of their LGBT+ creators and also censor them to appease advertisers. They either have to become transparent about their true agenda with updating restricted mode or drop the advertisers who demand such qualifications. At the end of the day, YouTube is a company. Companies want to make money and there is money to be made off of claiming to encourage all creators regardless of who they are. But when this stance becomes a liability, will YouTube risk its advertisers to fight for their LGBT+ creators?
It doesn’t seem likely.
"Advertiser-friendly Content Guidelines - YouTube Help." Google. Google, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
Creators, YouTube. "A Message to Our Community ..." Twitter. Twitter, 19 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.
"Disable or Enable Restricted Mode - Computer - YouTube Help." Google. Google, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
Downey, Jennifer, et al. “Self-Censorship in Selection of LGBT Themed Materials.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 2, 2013, pp. 104–107.
Fiona. "Just Looked at My Videos" Twitter. Twitter, 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.
Smith, Kit. "36 Astonishing YouTube Stats for 2016." Brandwatch. N.p., 8 June 2016. Web. 01 May 2017.