YouTube reverses some restrictions on LGBT-themed content following uproar

YouTube Spotlight, YouTube's official channel, posted in 2015 a video 'celebrating Marriage Equality and LGBT Pride Month', it is currently among the 'restricted' content
YouTube Spotlight, YouTube's official channel, posted in 2015 a video 'celebrating Marriage Equality and LGBT Pride Month', it is currently among the 'restricted' content Credit: YouTube Spotlight

The YouTube video shows two women, dressed in suits and ties. They smile; they sniffle back tears; they gaze into each other's eyes. They are reading their wedding vows to one another.

The four-minute video titled Her Vows contains no nudity, violence or swearing. There's no revealing clothing. No one is engaging in activities that have a "high risk of injury or death." And yet, YouTube had deemed the video unsuitable for people under 18.

YouTube acknowledged on Monday that it might have made a mistake, saying in a tweet, "Some videos have been incorrectly labeled and that's not right. We're on it! More to come." The restriction on the vows video was lifted by Monday afternoon.

But others - including one from YouTube celebrity Tyler Oakley titled 8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspire Me - remained on YouTube's age-restricted list.

Several YouTube users, many of them part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, have been complaining that their videos are categorised as "restricted" for no obvious reasons.

Canadian band Tegan and Sara took to Twitter to complain that some of their musical videos were put on restricted mode.

"Our videos for Alligator, That Girl [and] U-turn still restricted. None have 'sensitive content' in them unless us dancing is 'sensitive'" the twins said.

The band later tweeted in response to YouTube's "we're on it" comment. "Glad u guys are looking into your mistake. But perhaps [you] should also share how [you] will determine what is "sensitive" and will [be] restricted?"

The "restricted" designation lets parents, schools and libraries filter out content that isn't appropriate for users under 18. Turning on the restriction makes videos inaccessible. YouTube calls it "an optional feature used by a very small subset of users."

It's unclear whether the types of videos in question are now being categorised as "restricted" for the first time, or whether this is a long-standing policy that is only now getting attention. More likely, it is the latter.

UK-based YouTube creator Rowan Ellis made a video criticising the restrictions last week. This video itself was restricted, though YouTube has since reclassified that video as OK. In an email, Ms Ellis said YouTube needs to reach out to the LGBTQ community to explain "how this system works, and how it came to flag like this, if it was indeed an error and not a deliberate targeting."

The video-sharing website on Monday night released an extended statement about the inner workings of their "restricted mode".

" The bottom line is that this feature isn’t working the way it should. We’re sorry and we’re going to fix it," Johanna Wright, VP of YouTube's product management said.

Our system sometimes make mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode. For instance, the following videos are examples of where we got it wrong: Ash Hardell’s “Her Vows,” Calum McSwiggan’s “Coming Out To Grandma,” Jono and Ben’s “Woman interrupted during BBC interview,” and Tegan and Sara’s “BWU [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO].”

While the system will never be 100 percent perfect, as we said up top, we must and will do a better job. Thanks to your feedback, we’ve manually reviewed the example videos mentioned above and made sure they’re now available in Restricted Mode -- we’ll also be using this input to better train our systems. It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter rely on humans and computer software to weed out unsuitable content. Mistakes can happen whether it's a person or a machine.

The latest complaints spawned the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty over the weekend.

YouTube said in a tweet Sunday that LGBTQ videos aren't automatically filtered out, though some discussing "more sensitive issues" might be restricted. But the company, which is owned by Google, did not specify what it counts as "more sensitive issues."

In an emailed statement on Monday, YouTube