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YouTube Defends Restricted Mode Feature Against Charges of Bigotry [UPDATE]

YouTube’s Restricted Mode is an opt-in feature that allows users to “screen out potentially objectionable content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see,” according to a company FAQ. Over the last few days, LGBT bloggers and artists have pointed out something curious: Enabling Restricted Mode appears to hide all LGBT-related material, regardless of its actual content. For example, Zinnia Jones, whose work discusses transgender issues, said most of her channel was blocked. (Tegan and Sara claimed their not-at-all-racy videos were hidden within the mode, though it appears they’ve now been unblocked.)

In response, YouTube released a mealy-mouthed statement about how LGBT content isn’t banned, but videos that “discuss more sensitive issues” are:

A spokesperson also gave this statement to Gizmodo: “Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a very small subset of users who want to have a more limited YouTube experience… Some videos that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use this feature.”

Here’s how YouTube designates which videos will be hidden under Restricted Mode: “We use community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content.” These are some videos I discovered were hidden with Restricted Mode flipped on:

  • Priests’ “JJ” video, in which the band gets their faces touched
  • Real Estate’s “It’s Real” video, in which the band turn into dogs
  • The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” video, in which the camera remains stationary while fixed on a speaker
  • Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” video, in which he pretends to play a boxer
  • The Needle Drop’s review of Solange’s A Seat at the Table, in which he reviews Solange’s A Seat at the Table

The effect seems… imprecise, no? That’s a small sampling of stuff that isn’t at all “sensitive” to anyone over the age of five. It’s basically worthless for all but the most frightened, overprotective parents. YouTube might be on the level with its explanation, but they’ve built a service that isn’t nearly as functional as it should be. Or maybe I have no idea what it’s like to be a parent, worried that the sight of Martin Courtney cuddling with a pooch might scar his sweet boy’s brain for life.

Children, scroll down and turn “Restricted Mode” off.

Update (3/21, 9:19 a.m.): In a post to the YouTube Creator Blog, the company said it would attempt to revise the ineffectual service. “The bottom line is that this feature isn’t working the way it should. We’re sorry and we’re going to fix it,” wrote Johanna Wright, VP of Product Management. “Our system sometimes make mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode … It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us.”