YouTube grounded Xtra’s online video channel on Nov 12 for being too damn sexy in its delivery of gay news.

In October, YouTube took down Xtra’s news report on the 2009 Church St Fetish Fair. On Nov 12, YouTube removed Xtra and Fab’s report on the 2008 Northbound Leather Fetish Party. At the same time, YouTube removed Fab’s 2009 Northbound video.

YouTube did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The notices sent to Xtra and Fab suggest that the “inappropriate” videos were taken down for containing “nudity” and “sexually gratuitous” imagery, but it’s unclear which specific scenes triggered the deletion.

“YouTube is clearly more strict when it comes to fetish or BDSM videos,” says Brent Creelman, Xtra.ca’s managing editor. “The three videos removed from the Xtra and Fab channels are news reports from fetish events. YouTube’s policy states that videos can’t contain graphic or gratuitous violence, so maybe they consider spanking and flogging as acts of violence?”

Creelman says YouTube needs to make it easier for users to appeal its decisions.

“The Church Street Fetish Fair was a public event, and our video was a fun, campy news report,” he says. “YouTube’s own guidelines state that exceptions can be made for videos with a documentary purpose — so why didn’t our video meet that criteria?”

Xtra has since reposted the videos directly on its own website. Fab associate editor Matt Thomas says “switching to other video-sharing platforms is always an option,” but sites like Dailymotion and Vimeo also have guidelines that are open-ended and could be used to delete sexy videos.

In 2008, YouTube changed its guidelines in response to concerns of heavy-handed censorship. It is now making greater use of “strikes that expire” instead of disabling accounts straight away.

However, YouTube’s policies on sexual expression remain exceedingly vague, and the problem of arbitrary enforcement remains. YouTube relies on viewers to flag content as somehow inappropriate and gives them a variety of open-ended options to choose from, including graphic sexual content; nudity; suggestive, but without nudity; or other sexual content.

YouTube moderators have enormous leeway in deciding which of the thousands of videos flagged everyday contain material that violates YouTube’s terms of use. They may decide to keep the video, enforce an age-requirement, remove the video or, in the most extreme case, delete the user’s account.

One problem, says Thomas, is that YouTube is not transparent in its decisions and does not even provide specific reasons for why videos were removed.

“It leaves gay media in a position where a faceless corporation deems what is acceptable in terms of what videos people can upload,” he says. “There is no room for debate, to address or even acknowledge why they take specific videos down. They do not provide a means to appeal. I can contact no one.”
OA_show('Leaderboard - incontent article/blog');