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News & Views

Why is YouTube hiding LGBT content?

YouTube has admitted that a wide range of video content on its platform relating to LGBT issues has been made unavailable to view in Restricted Mode, drawing criticism and a call for more nuanced content curation from the gay YouTuber community. Creators affected include Tyler Oakley, one of the most famous influencers to emerge on the site.

“We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform—they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about,” reads a statement from YouTube Creators. “The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.”

The issue here is the use of the term “sensitive.” Sensitive to whom? As YouTuber Rowan Ellis points out, there has long been a conflation of “gay” with “inappropriate” when it comes to visual media; an assumption that any content relating to LGBT issues will be explicitly sexual and therefore unsuitable for children. But this is little more than a homophobic dog whistle, a handy excuse to silence queer voices while maintaining a veneer of respectability.

Online communities such as those you find on YouTube have become a vital resource for LGBT youth; a safe space where they can get the education and support that schools are still failing to provide.

“Kids who want to know about different orientations and definitions and about the history of LGBT people, etc, they can’t access that when their videos are being restricted,” says YouTube creator NeonFiona. “Restricting these videos makes it harder for these kids to find information they need and the community that they’ve been missing.”

Making friends and finding community in the digital realm is especially important for trans teenagers, who are the most at-risk in the real world. Unfortunately, even including the words “trans” or “transgender” in a title can result in it being removed from search results, as SeainLove found when YouTube pulled her video “I Am Transgender” from Restricted Mode.

Another side effect of these removals is the erasure of bisexuality from a number of creators’ channels. Melanie Murphy has pointed out that all videos relating to her having a girlfriend had been cut from Restricted Mode, whereas the clips in which she refers to having a boyfriend remain: “With the click of a button YouTube’s restricted mode makes me appear straight.”

Far from being the act of a nefarious, homophobic moderator, the removal of these videos is much more likely to be down to a deeply flawed algorithm. It’s worth noting that it isn’t just LGBT-themed videos which are being affected; content relating to gaming and ASMR is being removed too.

“The LGBT community means a lot to YouTube and I’m pushing our teams to investigate,” CEO Susan Wojcicki tweeted on Sunday.

But the optics aren’t great. Even if the removal of these videos is not intentional, YouTube is now perceived by a number of young people in the LGBT community as a platform that doesn’t care about them and can’t be trusted. Wojcicki and her people are going to have to do a lot to earn some of that trust back.

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