When two robots face off in a concrete ring to battle to their brutal, oily deaths, no animals are harmed in the process. But YouTube has been taking down videos of Battlebots and issuing strikes against their creators, citing animal cruelty.
As first spotted by YouTuber Maker's Muse, YouTube has taken down videos of robots doing combat after mistaking them for videos that show "deliberate infliction of animal suffering." f YouTube has confirmed to Motherboard that it removed the videos in error, that the videos have already been restored, and that YouTube has no policy against videos of robots fighting.
YouTube prohibits videos "where animals are encouraged or coerced to fight by humans," according to its restricted content policies—which it seems to have applied to videos of bots scraping in a ring.
Jamison Go, from Battlebots Team SawBlaze, posted the email he received for eight of his videos:
Sarah Pohorecky, a member of Team Uppercut on this season of Battlebots, also had one of her videos taken down. "I'd say off my head that at least 10-15 builders have been affected," she told me in a Facebook message. "Some had a number of videos removed, while others only had one or two out of many robot videos on their channels [removed]."
She said that beyond being battle robot videos, the removals didn't follow a pattern in video title or robot names, but some of the videos did have animal names in the titles, because they were names of the robots.
Other robot makers on Facebook have said that they've also received notices from YouTube about their videos.
“With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call," A spokesperson for YouTube told Motherboard. "When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.”
One of the videos taken down for animal cruelty.
YouTube's moderation efforts—a task its own CEO has called impossible—have been criticised for relying too heavily on inconsistent, flawed algorithmic systems to catch restricted content.
Pohorecky said that after her video was removed, there wasn't a clear option to protest the decision—and as a beta user for YouTube's new Studio for creators, she found out that the appeal process to be more convoluted than the old interface. She said that the new YouTube Studio removes the "appeal" button from the interface next to removed videos, and now forces creators to navigate through several screens of video information to find the option to appeal.
Her videos are back online now, as are others' Battlebots videos that were removed mistakenly, but Pohorecky is concerned that older battle videos might not get appealed or reinstated. "I just think that it's sad that some people may end up losing old fight videos from a fun hobby because a YouTube AI engineer didn't do their job properly," she said.
Update 8/21/19, 8:20 p.m.: After this story was published Sarah Pohorecky contacted Motherboard to clarify that her video was removed, but that her channel did not receive a strike. We've updated the story to reflect this.