According to Google, YouTube’s parent site, restricted mode uses Community Guidelines reviews, meta-data, and age-restrictions to screen out “potentially mature content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see.” Parents and schools can enable the feature to prevent those under eighteen from accessing material that may be inappropriate. But others believe that the site indiscriminately restricted pro-LGBTQ videos, such as gay vlogger Tyler Oakley’s video on “8 Black LGBTQ + Trailblazers Who Inspire Me,” wedding vows from a same-sex wedding, and music videos by the lesbian sister duo Tegan and Sara.
In a heteronormative society, the issue of children’s access to LGBTQ content is not a new concept. When the Nickelodeon cartoon Legend of Korra ended with the two female leads holding hands and beginning an implied romantic relationship, many conservative Christian groups protested the addition of homosexual elements in a children’s cartoon. Janet Boynes, a self-described “former lesbian” and the founder of Janet Boynes Ministries, which is designed to help people leave the homosexual lifestyle, warned that the gay community wanted to indoctrinate young children by normalizing homosexuality in the media. In a more extreme example, Russia famously passed a federal law in 2013 “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” or the “gay propaganda law.” The law prohibited material that “raises interest” in non-traditional sexual relationships and was sharply criticized by human rights groups, which accused it of justifying discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
In an emailed statement, YouTube reported, “Some videos that cover subjects like health, politics and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use [Restricted Mode].” Members and allies of the LGBTQ community, however, believe that the feature could prevent younger members of the community from having access to resources that allow them to grow more comfortable in their sexuality. Young people isolated at school or home because of their sexuality can find solace from YouTubers who went through the same struggles growing up. Transgender YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous described the site as a place where she could explore during her transition.
On the YouTube Creator Blog, Johanna Wright, YouTube’s Vice President of Product Management, acknowledged, “Today, about 1.5 percent of YouTube’s daily views come from people who have Restricted Mode turned on. But we know this isn’t about numbers; it’s about the principle of anyone having access to important content and
different points of view.”
The site released a statement via the YouTube Creators Twitter account that said, “We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform – they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about. The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” The site also declassified some but not all of the previously restricted videos. In response, Tegan and Sara tweeted, “Hey guys! We’re available to chat if you guys want to explain why advice sites like @everyoneisgay is now restricted.”
So far, YouTube has not revealed why exactly so many non-explicit LGBTQ videos have been restricted or why only some of the restricted videos have been taken off the list. But all the LGBTQ YouTube community can do at this point is hope that the site will continue to improve the algorithm behind Restricted Mode. In the meantime, those that do not have the feature enabled can continue to enjoy their favorite videos.