TORONTO – A chorus of Canadian LGBTQ YouTubers, including pop duo Tegan and Sara, is calling for the video service to stop filtering out gay and trans-themed videos for some users.
The Calgary-raised sisters took to social media to question why YouTube’s “restricted” setting blocks a wide variety of LGBTQ-friendly content for no clear reason.
“If you put YouTube on restricted mode a bunch of our music videos disappear. I checked myself. LGBTQ people shouldn’t be restricted. SAD!” Tegan and Sara tweeted. Among the missing clips were videos from their latest album, including for “That Girl” and “U-turn.”
They were joined by Halifax singer Ria Mae, who said her video for “Gold,” which features the singer in a lesbian relationship, was also being filtered out.
“Young gay kids need to see themselves represented and they need to know it’s normal, it’s OK and it’s not X-rated,” Mae said in a video on her Instagram account.
“It sends a bad message to young gay kids and young trans kids that their lives are not normal or acceptable.”
At issue is YouTube’s “restricted” designation, which lets parents, schools and libraries filter content that may be considered inappropriate for users under 18. YouTube calls it “an optional feature used by a very small subset of users.”
What’s unclear is whether the types of videos in question are being labelled as “restricted” for the first time, or if this has been an ongoing practice that’s only recently gained attention.
Video producer Michael Rizzi, who’s based in Toronto, says he’s concerned with the message it sends to loyal YouTube users. He’s seen 176 of his 236 videos disappear in “restricted” mode, representing 75 per cent of the clips he’s uploaded over the past five years.
Rizzi says he wished Google’s YouTube executives would’ve been more transparent about how this happened. Instead, they appeared to sit back as YouTubers made the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty a trending topic on Twitter over the weekend.
“It’s more a feeling of being pushed to the side,” Rizzi says. “It’s a pretty big screw-up on their end.”
In an emailed statement on Monday, YouTube acknowledged the filter saying “some videos that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use this feature.”
YouTube added later that “some videos are incorrectly labelled by our automated system and we realize it’s very important to get this right.”
“We’re working hard to make some improvements,” the company said without offering further details.
The lack of information has left YouTubers struggling to determine what’s being sifted out, what isn’t and why it’s happening.
Rizzi suspects video tags like “LGBT” or “gay couple” may be triggering the filter for “7 Things I Love About My Boyfriend,” a video he says shouldn’t be restricted for a younger audience.
Even his clip commissioned for YouTube’s #ProudToBe campaign, timed to last year’s Pride Month, is now filtered out.
“YouTube’s own equality campaign is restricted, which is probably the weirdest part of everything,” Rizzi says.
Fellow YouTuber Stef Sanjati has seen about 20 per cent of her content — or 49 videos — filtered in the site’s “restricted” mode. She says the filter is hiding clips of her talking about transgender student bathrooms and makeup tutorials.
She hasn’t been able to figure out which keywords tagged to her videos might trigger the filter.
“The execution is so off the mark,” she says.
“It’s not about clicks and view counts. It’s about these resources being available for young people who would otherwise have no access to them.”
Sanjati vented her frustrations in a 10-minute YouTube video that’s been viewed more than 33,000 times. She hopes by speaking out, YouTube executives will understand how they’ve negatively impacted a loyal segment of their users.
“Restricting (these videos) is sending a message that we should discriminate against these people,” Sanjati says.
“I’m hearing, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, we might fix it one day.’ And that’s not really enough for us. It feels very dismissive.”
Follow @dfriend on Twitter.