YouTube Filtering Draws Ire of Gay and Transgender Creators


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Gigi Gorgeous in 2016. She stars in a YouTube-produced documentary about her transition, and has recently criticized YouTube for the effect its parental-control setting has on L.G.B.T. content.

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Emily Berl for The New York Times

YouTube on Monday admitted that its family-friendly restricted mode had wrongly labeled some videos on its site. The company apologized and promised to fix the error after users complained that the site was filtering some videos about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

“The bottom line is that this feature isn’t working the way it should,” Johanna Wright, vice president for product management, said in a blog post Monday evening. “We’re sorry and we’re going to fix it.”

YouTube was pressed over the weekend by some of its biggest stars to address the issue, and the statement on Monday evening appeared to go further to address some of the complaints than a pair of previous statements, released on Sunday and Monday afternoon.

Calum McSwiggan, who makes videos about gay rights and other issues, was among those who asked YouTube to address the problem over the weekend. On Monday night, he said on Twitter that he was “really happy” with the response from the company, which specifically mentioned one of his blocked videos in its statement.

In its statement on Sunday, YouTube said that many videos featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender content were unaffected by the filter, an optional parental-control mode, and that it targeted only those that discussed delicate topics such as politics, health and sexuality.

But some video creators, including the musicians Tegan and Sara and Tyler Oakley, a YouTube personality and gay-rights advocate, disagreed, pointing to blocked content that they argued was suitable for children of any age and did not discuss such subjects. They also said the filtering shielded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children from the resources and support the videos can provide.

Tegan and Sara, among others, responded to the statement released on Monday with measured praise, expressing thanks for the acknowledgment of the mistake while seeking clarity on how restricted mode works.

Still others questioned whether the filtering was even necessary.

YouTube on Monday described restricted mode, which was introduced in 2010, as “an optional feature” for institutions like schools that now accounts for only about 1.5 percent of all daily views.

“It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us,” Ms. Wright said on Monday.

Restricted mode relies on “community flagging, age restrictions and other signals” to identify which videos to filter, according to an official description. The company has said the feature is not 100 percent accurate.

In its initial response, posted on Twitter on Sunday night, YouTube said that it was “so proud” to host L.G.B.T. voices and that it was “looking into your concerns.”

But some considered that response insufficient.

Stef Sanjati, who shares videos about transgender issues and her transition, said the statement fell short.

Jenna Marbles, who with 17 million subscribers is among YouTube’s most popular stars, responded with incredulity to the site’s statement that only a small subset of users enable restricted mode.

The filtering issue was highlighted in a video on Thursday by the British user Rowan Ellis, who suggested that YouTube’s restricted mode appeared to have “some kind of targeted effect” for L.G.B.T. individuals.

Over the weekend, many video creators and users complained on Twitter, recycling the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty, which was trending worldwide by Sunday night.

“YouTube has always been a place where you can find someone just like you,” Gigi Lazzarato, a transgender YouTube star better known as Gigi Gorgeous, said in a video encouraging the company to address the issue that was posted before any of the company’s statements.

Ms. Lazzarato, who stars in a YouTube-produced documentary about her transition and who posted the video before YouTube issued its Twitter statement, noted that many of the videos in which she discusses her transition were blocked under restricted mode. Such content can be educational for children struggling with their own gender identity, she said.

“That video might be the ultimate tipping point for them in their transition,” she said.

#ProudToBeRestricted | Gigi Video by Gigi Gorgeous

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