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YouTube Censors HRW Video on LGBT Censorship

Opaque Standards Limit Access to LGBT Content

Update: As of Thursday, March 23, YouTube appears to have made HRW's video on anti-LGBT censorship in schools available under restricted mode.
On Monday, Utah repealed a law that restricts the “advocacy of homosexuality” in schools, recognizing that young people should have equal access to information and resources regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t seem to have entirely bought into that view.
Screenshot depicting Human Rights Watch's YouTube page with restricted view off (L) and again with it on.  © 2017 Human Rights Watch

Last week, LGBT vloggers and artists drew attention to the fact that YouTube’s restricted mode – a feature that parents and schools can activate “to help screen out potentially mature content” – blocks access to a broad range of LGBT content, including age-appropriate resources aimed at LGBT youth.

As pressure from users mounted, YouTube clarified this weekend that while some LGBT videos are available on restricted mode, “videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” In an emailed statement, they elaborated that these sensitive issues include “subjects like health, politics and sexuality.”

One of the videos YouTube has blocked in restricted mode is Human Rights Watch’s video on the impact of Utah’s discriminatory law – ironically, censoring a video about anti-LGBT censorship. As the video describes, barring students from accessing age-appropriate information not only deprives them of important information, but sends a stigmatizing message that their identities are wrong or inappropriate. For LGBT youth who lack resources at home or school, sites like YouTube are crucially important as sources of advice, information, and role models.

Human Rights Watch reached out to Youtube to ask why our video was classified as restricted content. A spokesperson declined to comment on any specific videos, but forwarded a link to a recent blog post recognizing that YouTube’s restricted mode “isn’t working the way it should.” The post explains that YouTube has manually reclassified some of the blocked videos, and urges patience as the company reevaluates its filtering technology.

That’s a step in the right direction. LGBT youth should be able to access age-appropriate information about their health, politics, and sexuality without feeling their identity is inappropriate. As gatekeepers for this information, it is up to providers like YouTube to ensure the basis for restricting information is clear and transparent, and that their filters don’t function in a discriminatory manner. Content creators should have a way to appeal if they believe their videos have been misidentified under the site’s restricted mode.

YouTube should ensure that its services respect the rights of all children to access information that advances their health and well-being.

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