At the start of last year, YouTube came under fire over the censorship of creators and their LGBTI content.
Their reasoning? Their automated system deemed our identity too ‘controversial’ and decided to restrict our videos.
At the time, YouTubers of all identities rose up to protest the injustice. YouTube responded by assuring everyone that terms like ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ and ‘LGBT’ would no longer be ‘controversial’ by its system.
So we all went on with making videos and forgot all about it.
Then, just this week, a viewer pointed out that nearly half of my videos were getting censored.
At first, I didn’t think twice about it. As some of you may know from my other articles, I’m a sex educator and I produce sensitive and often sexual content.
I decided to examine the censorship situation for myself.
There’s a flaw in the YouTube algorithm
Interestingly, I even found that YouTube wasn’t always restricting my sex education videos. In fact, some of the sex education content actually dodged the robot that decided what was family friendly or not.
On the contrary, it was my video about my experiences of coming out of the closet, my video about trying to pray the gay away, my video celebrating LGBT+ cinema, my video of my day in the life – those were the videos that were supposedly controversial and not family-friendly.
It even went so far as YouTube allowing a video discussing anal being acceptable (YouTube has since censored this video, but only after I confronted them about my censored content).
The only thing the censored videos had in common was that they were discussing LGBTI experiences. But there was absolutely nothing about them that wasn’t family friendly.
I was shocked to discover this and then decided to confront YouTube about it on Twitter.
They didn’t respond, so I accepted an offer to go on local radio to discuss the events more. The radio station told me they’d contact YouTube for their side of the story.
Then, that next day, the videos I had specifically brought up in that radio segment suddenly came back. They also regained ad revenue as well.
The sudden event was clearly not a coincidence.
While I was happy to see the action taken on behalf of YouTube, they still censored a great majority of my family friendly LGBTI content. They also offered no explanation for why their robot flagged those videos as offensive to begin with.
It’s not just me
Other creators reported similar things happening.
One creator even uploaded a video twice – once with the word ‘gay’ in the title and once without the word.
Guess what happened? YouTube flagged the one with the word ‘gay’ in the title for demonetization immediately.
A fellow friend and LGBTI creator named Taylor Robins found the same thing was happening with his channel.
Similarly, Vinny Vaillancourt (also known as v-squared) also found that YouTube restricted much of his LGBTI content too.
He was surprised to find that after a year of demonetization, YouTube re-approved a collaboration video we did, right after I confronted YouTube about our widespread censorship.
It shouldn’t take confrontation of this scale to see YouTube acknowledge that our identity isn’t a basis for demonetization or censorship.
Restricted mode itself is not a terrible thing.
Viewers should absolutely be able to avoid content that they don’t want to see, especially in the case of children viewing ‘adult’ topics.
The problem is that many don’t even know that restricted mode is on.
YouTube’s mobile applications often come with it on by default, so viewers might be totally unaware that lots of LGBTI content is out of their sight without their consent.
Additionally, with YouTube’s new design front, you can’t even access the restricted mode to turn it on or off without first disabling the new format.
‘Is this censorship all because I’m a gay man?’
When I released the first video of my new series Growing Up Gay and Christian, I was excited to share these intimate, rather intense stories of trying to pray the gay away.
I was confused why it got so few views, because I imagined the message would resonate with many.
But as it turns out, YouTube censored the entire video. All of a sudden, someone who could get something positive from the video, never saw that message. They’ll never know there’s other people out there who have gone through what they’ve gone through.
We could be saving people’s lives.
And all the while, YouTube isn’t censoring all alt-right content or anti-LGBTI messages. I’ve even seen anti-LGBTI ads on the videos of LGBTI creators.
Is this censorship all because I’m a gay man, who is open and proud about my identity?
I don’t actually think YouTube is maliciously hiding LGBTI content. But I do think the algorithm is still discriminating against the content LGBTI people create.
It hasn’t changed and we’re still being censored on the sole basis of our identity.
As a platform that has had a significant impact on our rights movement, our culture, and our ability to express our true selves, it’s incredibly shameful to know that that very platform is actually working to suppress our voices.
You can follow Bradley Birkholz on YouTube.