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Why these two LGBT YouTubers say ‘restricted mode’ hurts young people the most

Chase Ross and Stef Sanjati say the company isn’t doing enough to fix blocked LGBT content

Canadian LGBT YouTubers Chase Ross (left) and Stef Sanjati (right) noticed that dozens of their videos had disappeared under “Restricted Mode.” Credit: (L) Courtesy Chase Ross, (R) Nathan Sing/Daily Xtra

Some YouTube personalities say the company’s apology for filtering and blocking LGBT videos isn’t enough.

The company is facing backlash after LGBT creators noticed that most or all of their videos were flagged under the platform’s restricted mode. 

According to YouTube, it introduced restricted mode in 2010 to restrict what it considers mature content, like content containing profanity, violence, discussions of sexuality, addictions and eating disorders. Some parents, schools and libraries also use restricted mode to filter out content that they consider inappropriate for users under 18. Viewers using their personal accounts have the option to turn restricted mode on and off in their personal settings.

uppercaseCHASE1/YouTube

Around March 17, some YouTubers started noticing their videos were missing under restricted mode. Chase Ross, a transgender YouTuber with over 80,000 subscribers, says that over 60 percent of his videos had been flagged under this restriction, despite containing no mature content. Many YouTubers from the LGBT community are facing the same censorship, according to Ross.

“A lot of my videos that are made for trans men, families and allies aren’t seen under restricted mode. This means that many people under 18, people who aren’t logged in, people who are in libraries or other public places can’t access these videos,” Ross says. 

“This is the population that needs to see these videos the most,” he says. 

Stef Sanjati/YouTube

Stef Sanjati, a transgender YouTuber with over 400,000 subscribers, says she noticed that 35 of her videos were restricted. After addressing the issue in a video, which garnered over 100,000 views, Sanjati says the number of restricted videos on her channel increased to around 50.

“You can access videos from white supremacists, videos about Nazism and all of this awful stuff while on restricted mode . . .  but you can’t access videos on my transition and on being transgender,” Sanjati says.

The Importance of YouTube for LGBT Youth

If she hadn’t found videos by young queer people on YouTube when she was in middle school, she would not have found her true self, Sanjati says. 

“I would have still been unhappy, and I probably wouldn’t have found out I was trans.”

She began making her own videos in her first year of high school because she felt isolated and rejected by her peers. “When you’re a kid, like 12 or 13, how you get to know yourself is through other people, and I didn’t have that,” she says. “YouTube is how I learned to talk to people, how to be comfortable, and it was so important for my personal growth.”

Sanjati says it’s important that these resources are accessible, especially to young people under 18. “In my hometown, there were no resources for trans people. Kids aren’t always comfortable going to an adult or a person of authority and saying, ‘Hey, I’m uncomfortable with my entire life,’ so it’s important that they have resources they can access without fear of backlash, and YouTube is a great platform for that.”

GLAAD’s third annual Accelerating Acceptance report found that 20 percent of millennials identify as queer, and more millennials are identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming than in any other generation. For this generation, who grew up with the internet, YouTube videos about coming out are an accessible resource.

Ross says there are few safe spaces available in person for some LGBT youth, leaving many of those youth without support. “All of these young people have found a safe space online where they can remain anonymous and still get educated,” Ross says. “They can interact with others from the comfort of their home without feeling judged or afraid.”

“I was scared and confused as a teenager, and when I found videos by transgender people, I found myself,” Ross says. “I was able to be more confident and express myself. I am who I am today because of [that] content.”

YouTube’s Apology

YouTube (which is owned by Google) posted an apology to the LGBT community via its YouTube Creators Twitter page and on its blog, admitting that some LGBT videos had been “incorrectly labelled,” and would be fixed. Sanjati and Ross both say they aren’t satisfied with the apology.

YouTube says it will use the input from its creators and viewers to train its systems and improve its algorithms. 

“There’s nothing more important to us than being a platform where anyone can belong, have a voice and speak out when they believe something needs to be changed,” YouTube wrote on its blog on March 20, 2017.

Xtra requested comment from both Google and Google Canada, but communications staff said no one was available for an interview.

“I think they can do much better and they should be more explicit with their support of the LGBT community,” Sanjati says.

Ross says that while he is glad the company didn’t fully ignore the backlash, he doesn’t believe YouTube realizes how much restricted mode affects LGBT content creators and how important it is for these problems to be fixed quickly.

“The algorithm is all off and someone needs to change it. LGBT content is needed and necessary in this toxic society that teaches people that being different is bad,” Ross says. “YouTube is a place to show how being different is special and that people who are different are wanted and valid.”