Sometimes algorithms don’t work as intended. And sometimes they do but with results that weren’t fully considered. The latter looks to be going on right now with YouTube’s Restricted Mode, a setting that’s intended to filter out “potentially objectionable content,” and videos about LGBTQ+ topics.
Restricted Mode has been around since at least 2015, with an earlier version known as “Safety Mode” having been introduced in 2010, but this issue is just now cropping up for reasons that aren’t clear. It’s possible the algorithm changed in some manner, or it could just be that folks are only now realizing the full implications. A March 16 vlog by Rowan Ellis details what appears to be happening: LGBTQ+ content is seemingly arbitrarily included in Restricted Mode. Videos detailing relationships, for example, aren’t always restricted, but those involving same-sex relationship discussions of otherwise benign nature can be included in the wide net that Restricted Mode casts. For example, videos about being transgender as well as several involving transitioning are blocked when Restricted Mode is enabled.
While the reasons aren’t exactly spelled out for what does and does not make the cut, YouTube’s support site indicates that age restrictions, community flagging, and more factor in. “Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a very small subset of users who want to have a more limited YouTube experience,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Videos that contain LGBT topics are available in Restricted Mode, however, some videos that cover subjects like health, politics, and sexuality may not appear for users and institutions that choose to use this feature.”
The full extent of videos that are hidden in Restricted Mode vary in terms of format, subject matter, and even language. It’s difficult to nail down what proportion of, say, violent videos are blocked versus those that deal with sexuality, since YouTube is not exactly forthcoming with that data at the moment. However, the setting seems to be highly sensitive to LGTBQ+ content, even if it’s not explicitly sexual. Here are a few examples:
A video by YouTuber Stef Sanjati that goes over exactly what’s happening with LGBTQ+ videos on YouTube.
A Spanish video by Javier Ruescas about LGBTQ+ book characters.
Two different videos where British YouTuber neonfiona and her girlfriend list facts they know about each other (and sometimes kiss) are also mysteriously gone in Restricted Mode.
YouTuber RyannMinajj has several videos hit by Restricted Mode, including this rather tame one where he and his boyfriend try to list facts about each other with pies in the face for wrong answers.
There also appears to be no correlation between how popular you are either. Tyler Oakley, a YouTuber with over 8 million subscribers, discovered his video about black LGBTQ+ trailblazers is included as well.
A tweet from the YouTube Creators account offers some carefully worded support for LGBTQ+ voices while also admitting that videos discussing “more sensitive issues” could be included in the content Restricted Mode hides. The company declined to say whether it will make any changes based on the backlash to the feature.