Image courtesy of YouTube's Creators program.
YouTube's Restricted Mode is an option for parents, schools, and others with young internet users to limit access to controlled portions of the site, but it is now blocking makeup tutorials for trans youth, videos of same-sex couples reading their wedding vows, and other day-to-day lifestyle videos of the queer/trans community. Although YouTube describes its Restricted Mode as an attempt to "filter out mature content," one of the side effects of the system is the soft-banning of LGBTQ themed videos.
After days of criticism from the LGBTQ community, YouTube has released a statement on the impact of their Restricted Mode on LGBTQ content on their site. It's deeply troubling, as queer game developer Robert Yang pointed out in a tweet today.
The YouTube community itself flags videos as mature content, and like any self-reporting system, it's open to abuse/overreach. And YouTube/YouTube's LGBTQ content creators are now seeing its effects: Children and other vulnerable internet users are losing access to queer-affirmative content.
Particularly frustrating about the policy is the fact that YouTube Restricted doesn't prevent users from viewing content featuring white supremacists like Richard Spencer and the Traditional Workers Party. Children/teenagers get an increasingly large portion of their entertainment and information from YouTube, and the consequences of its Restricted Mode is a reinforcement of the belief that queer content is only suitable for adult consumption but racist blowhards bloviating about white nationalism is acceptable for kids.
Why does a gaming YouTuber get a pass here?
YouTube's statement on the controversy promises to look into the fallout of its new system and praises the "passion" of its community for "making YouTube such an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant" place. However, those words feel empty to members of the LGBTQ community. Queer childhoods are isolating. You rarely feel like you have anyone to talk to. You have all these feelings that you struggle to sort because you know so few people dealing with the same things. YouTube videos that offer queer/trans kids even the smallest shelter and education into their possible communities are havens. And now YouTube says that content isn't suitable for children. That is emotional violence that will make queer/trans kids believe their queerness/gender identity isn't suitable either.
YouTube videos that offer queer/trans kids even the smallest shelter and education into their possible communities are havens.
For anyone curious about what sorts of videos are being flagged by YouTube, the hashtags #YouTubeIsOverParty and #YouTubeRestricted saw LGBTQ content creators identifying their own work which had been flagged by the new system. Whether this new assault on the visibility that the LGBTQ community has achieved in the last eight years is part of a bigger cultural push of queer/trans erasure or a technical oversight by YouTube remains to be seen. Let's hope it's the latter. Either way, vigilant pushback is required against this and any other anti-LGBTQ policies.
Correction: A previous version of this article suggested that YouTube Restricted included content from some YouTube creators that it currently blocks.