Youtube’s SafeSearch Controversy

Hasan Ahmed - 1B Nanotechnology
Posted on: March 25, 2017

YouTube’s SafeSearch filter is nothing new. It’s always been a good idea to restrict some content, especially for young children starting to be exposed to the internet. It’s fine to keep some controversial topics and such away from children due to potentially offensive language and themes. However, the company recently received backlash after LGBTQ+ content was also included in those restrictions. Although the videos were not age-sensitive, they were still being filtered out. Popular icons such as Tegan and Sara displayed their concerns on twitter, saying it was sad that this content had to be hidden from children. They need to know that this content is not x-rated, and is important for LGBTQ+ members to be represented properly, because otherwise they’ll think it’s not normal.

YouTuber Rowan Ellis brought this to attention with a video that showed restricted mode filtering out these videos. As of now, it has about 75 000 views, but the message has spread much further through social media, particularly on Twitter.

YouTube says 1.5 percent of their daily views come from restricted mode viewers. So although the restricted filter isn’t used on a lot of videos in the large scale, this issue is still detrimental to all users of the filter. The hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty was trending on Twitter for a few days. It also highlighted an issue showing that although LGBTQ+ videos were being hidden, some anti-LGBTQ+ videos were still being shown, which YouTubers felt to be regressive to the movement, as well as homophobic. YouTube responded saying that they would try to fix any issues with the filter. As you probably can guess, it’s automated, so not everything can be caught by the filter. However, with such a large number of videos being restricted, this response did not receive much grace from the community. The company, although openly pro-LGBT themselves, dug themselves into a deep hole which they must fix immediately.

The filter doesn’t just escape anti-LGBT content. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been on YouTube and watched/found things such as graphic violence from current news, or even horrific animal abuse videos, but somehow they escape the filter completely. Michael Rizzi, a video producer, has had a lot of his videos restricted. He was upset at Google’s lack of communication with the users/public. Rizzi also made a video for the #ProudToBe campaign last year, another pro-LGBT hashtag. However, that video is also currently restricted.

YouTube ended up releasing a statement on the issue via Twitter, which stated, “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 us 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.”