While YouTube says a problem with search filters that treated queer content as unsafe for children has been improved, LGBT YouTubers say their content still gets flagged in Restricted Mode, and it’s starting to cost them serious money. “It's infuriating and crippling,” says YouTuber Bria Kam, “and many LGBT content creators won't be able to survive.”
Content creators continue to experience problems even after YouTube executives announced the video sharing platform had corrected a search issue that improperly screened “hundreds of thousands” of seemingly innocuous videos from LGBT creators when users turned on Restricted Mode. “We’ve made progress over the last few weeks,” wrote Johanna Wright, YouTube vice president of product management, on the YouTube Creator Blog. “Though Restricted Mode will never be perfect, we hope to build on our progress so far to continue making our systems more accurate and the overall Restricted Mode experience better over time.”
But many creators suggest the work done remains far from enough. Indeed, of a list of 19 videos The Advocate highlighted as questionable choices for censorship, 11 still cannot be viewed in Restricted Mode.
The YouTube blog post does also further explain why videos get filtered, illuminating why some of the videos remain on lockdown. Wrights explained if anyone is drinking alcohol in a video, it likely will not be viewable in the mode (sorry, My Drunk Kitchen), nor will videos about deadly acts of terrorism “even if no graphic imagery is shown” (better protect kids from tributes to Pulse victims).
But Wright also says the mode should not “filter out content belonging to individuals or groups based on certain attributes like gender, gender identity, political viewpoints, race, religion or sexual orientation,” which should clear still-restricted videos like Tyler Oakley’s “8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspire Me”. The YouTube post says music videos with adult themes including sex and drug use will likely get restricted, but Tom Goss’s extremely timid “All My Life” gets flagged even as Katy Perry’s interstellar intercourse anthem “E.T.” manages to pass muster. Goss says about 40 percent of his videos get caught by Restricted Mode.
A WhatWeganDidNext video of Megan Evans proposing to Whitney Kay Bacon, one of the more inexplicably censored videos, remains behind the Restricted wall as well. Perhaps it’s a still of the couple with a bottle of champagne? Regardless, a huge chunk of WhatWeganDidNext content gets filtered even now, according to Evans.
“Our most popular videos are still restricted,” she says. “We don't see any positive change.” The timing of the LGBT controversy proves especially dangerous for creators, who across the platform have complained about rapid declines in revenues generated from advertising. “YouTube's change in algorithm is greatly affecting us with views also,” Evans continues. “We're just not getting the views that we used to and other channels [with fewer subscribers] are getting many, many more views than us. It doesn't make sense and is disheartening.”
Increasingly, YouTubers say that problem seems worse for videos with any degree of queer content. Stephanie Frosch, who runs the channel ElloSteph, says even PG content won’t make money it it’s also LGBT. “I had a video come out recently called ‘The Girlfriend Tag.’ In the video there is no nudity, violence, intimacy, etc. We don't even kiss once. The video generated about 120,000 views, but has made $20,” Frosch says. “Another video I put out the following week, which was not LGBTQ+ related, was one of my weakest performing video with 30,000 views [but] has made $50.”
Frosch Tuesday put up a video saying she may have to quit YouTube. Kam and partner Chrissy Chambers put up a similar video on their channel BriaAndChrissy.
Neither video can be viewed in Restricted Mode.
“We are finding across the board with other LGBT content creators that even though YouTube has ‘fixed’ the restricted LGBT content and playing ads again,” Kam tells The Advocate. “You can see in the analytics that they are playing far less ads on videos with key words pertaining to the LGBT community. We can see that our videos are monetized, but they are placing far fewer ads on the content.”
Of course, some LGBT YouTubers do report improvement on the Restricted Mode front. Creator Josh Rimer says most of the content that was affected at the time controversy arose in March can now be seen when the Restricted Mode filter gets activated, “but there are still some odd ones missing.” A Sassy Scoop video of a dog playing with a chew toy is no longer restricted, for example, but one of a woman throwing water in her husband’s face as a prank remains affected. “So it's nice to see that in fact some videos are being restored to being publicly available in Restricted Mode, but unfortunately others that I believe should be still aren't,” Rimer says. “With such an incredible amount of videos on the platform though, I certainly wouldn't expect it to be perfect and can only imagine what's required on their end to figure this out.”
But plenty of creators say they don’t have the time for YouTube to dither, not flaws in filters and algorithms threaten their livelihood. “If YouTube doesn't change this,” Frosch says, “LGBTQ+ content creators can no longer afford to make content as a full-time job, which means we will have less time to make videos, which means there will be a significant drop in LGBTQ+ content on YouTube.”