The video sharing platform YouTube, which is owned by Google, has been accused of stifling LGBTQ-related content after video creators noted that several of their posts were made unavailable for general viewership.
Critics of the site said that their videos were hidden under YouTube’s “restricted mode” setting, which users can enable in order to filter content.
The Restricted Mode feature must be turned on by individual YouTube users. YouTube explained in a statement how “restricted mode” might limit access to such videos as follows:
Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a very small subset of users who want to have a more limited YouTube experience. Videos that contain LGBT topics are available in Restricted Mode, however, some videos that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use this feature.
The site also contains a section informing users how to use Restricted Mode, which reads in part:
You can use Restricted Mode to help screen out potentially objectionable content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see on YouTube. We use community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content. Restricted Mode is available in all languages, but due to potential cultural sensitivities, the quality may vary.
But YouTube has also been accused of disproportionately affecting videos related to gaming or Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), as well as inconsistently applying Restricted Mode limits to LGBTQ content.
It is unclear how many videos are currently affected by the policy, or when the videos were placed in restricted mode.
A British vlogger, Rowan Ellis, was credited with bringing the issue to light after posting a video on 16 March 2017 criticizing YouTube:
People talk about it being about protecting children. For me it’s this completely nonsensical idea that has no basis in reality around “protecting” specifically straight and cis children or children from straight and cis families. It does nothing to protect queer and trans children. It does nothing to protect queer and trans families. It is inciting ignorance into a new generation, which should not be tolerated.
Other YouTube creators have since questioned the policy, suggesting that it flags videos that mention LGBTQ-related content in their titles regardless of their content. Vlogger Neon Fiona posted a picture showing the effect of the setting on her video listings:
YouTube released a second statement online on 19 March 2017 reaffirming their support for LGBTQ creators while saying they were “looking into [their] concerns”:
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.