Recently YouTube has been swamped with controversy over a new filtering feature. Creating a restricted mode, the web streaming service was hoping to provide content for schools and more educational purposes.
However in its design, YouTube ran into a problem. The censoring feature, targeting videos with violent and sexual content, ended up hiding videos featuring LGBT themes. Examples include gay weddings, vlogs, and a variety of non-explicit content. On discovering this, various content creators, such as YouTube icon Tyler Oakley, expressed their frustration over social media, and YouTube was forced to backtrack.
This raises the broader issue of censorship on YouTube, something that is most assuredly bad.
A representative from YouTube, Johanna Wright, vice president of YouTube's product management, issued a statement saying “The bottom line is that this feature isn’t working the way it should. We’re sorry and we’re going to fix it.” And it looks as though YouTube is working to un-restrict these videos, as many creators who have complained have found their videos back to normal.
Most YouTube users aren’t watching from a school, or area where restricted mode would come into play. So the actual effects of this censorship are small. However this does raise the question of censorship on YouTube. After all, YouTube found its success because of the freedoms it gave creators. YouTube thrives on its differentiation from the culture of traditional television. Seeing censorship take over this medium known for its creativity is concerning to say the least.
Censorship isn’t new on YouTube, there’s been a gradual progression toward restrictions on content, however this is the first time censorship has affected creators with non-controversial content.
An example of censorship based on controversy happened last month to the current number one YouTuber, PewDiePie. Renowned for his video game commentary and more recently for his vlogs, the Swedish YouTuber found himself accused of being anti-Semitic after making radical jokes about the death of Jews. Given this bad publicity, Disney ended its affiliation with him, and YouTube stripped him of his status as recommended across its site, slashing his ad revenue as a way of trying to censor his content. In fact, YouTube went so far as to cancel his upcoming season on YouTube Red, simply for his comedy.
While anti-Semitism is certainly wrong, Pewdiepie is no Neo-Nazi. He’s an entertainer trying to make jokes. This sort of comedy wouldn’t succeed on television, which is why YouTube is such an excellent medium for it; howeve,r even YouTube is beginning to let censorship slip into its policies. And while Anti-Semitism jokes aren’t ideal, and public backlash is certainly necessary to keep creators from crossing the line, YouTube’s selling point is how its creators have more freedom than traditional media outlets.
Placing restrictions on what creators can do or say on YouTube is certainly the website’s right, it's responsible for the content it displays. However, just because it possesses that right doesn’t mean it should implement it. If individuals want to boycott or denounce PewDiePie for his humor, so be it. But when it comes to dilemmas like this it’s very hard to draw the line. As a result, when censorship enters the picture, individual expression suffers.