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YouTube’s restriction rules are impacting gaming channels

Part of a much bigger issue the YouTube community is facing

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A number of YouTube creators who belong to site’s gaming and LGBTQ communities have noticed many of their videos are hidden in restricted mode, despite not violating any of the rules that would lead to videos being undiscoverable.

YouTube came under fire over the weekend for restricted mode, a seven-year-old content filtering system, after many members of the LGBTQ community discovered their videos were hidden by its algorithm. With new attention for the issue, creators from across YouTube began to check whether their videos were discoverable in restricted mode.

Restricted mode was introduced in 2015 by YouTube and is essentially targeted towards children. It hides objectionable content, like violence, nudity, or vulgar language. Although it doesn’t remove the videos from the site, if people are using restricted mode, which they can activate my scrolling to the bottom of the page and toggling it on, those videos will not appear.

Many content creators in the community have begun to notice some of their videos — or entire channels, in some cases — are hidden in restricted mode. While some of the videos make sense, including games showcasing violent gameplay footage, others don’t.

Developer Zoe Quinn noticed that her YouTube channel, which includes videos regarding her sexuality, were completely hidden in restricted mode by YouTube. Other videos about the developer, however, including threatening, sexist and vulgar commentary about her personal life can be viewed without restriction. One video in particular finds a YouTuber singing a vile “Happy Birthday” song to Quinn, which contains words and threats that violate YouTube’s code of conduct.

Quinn tweeted that she was looking for other platforms to host her videos, including those that don’t pertain to YouTube, because of the company’s restrictive mode. Like many creators on YouTube, she wasn’t aware that her videos were being restricted, let alone her entire channel. It was through coverage of YouTube’s LGBTQ community speaking out against the site that many streamers, devs and personalities started looking into their own sections, including Game Maker’s Toolkit creator Mark Brown.

“I took a look when I saw other YouTubers talking about their own videos being inaccessible,” Brown told Polygon. “I haven't received anything from YouTube itself about this. My bigger concern, of course, surrounds the reports that YouTube is blocking valuable LGBT resources. That sucks, and I hope YouTube will take the necessary steps to fix this.”

The main issue seems to be the algorithm YouTube created to enforce its restricted content. While violent, threatening, vulgar and sexist videos can be found even while in restricted mode, because other Let’s Play series or analytical examinations of games like Super Mario and Breath of the Wild have a gaming tag, they’re automatically removed.

Brown, who has more than 180,000 subscribers, said he noticed that a number of his videos couldn’t be seen if the user was in restricted mode and he didn’t understand why. One of Brown’s most recent videos, an examination of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was hidden in restricted mode, despite the game being rated E and the video containing no obvious objectionable content.

“My videos don't contain anything remotely controversial,” Brown said. “So my best guess is that restricted mode has hidden videos about games that have mature or violent content, like Doom, Deus Ex, BioShock, and Hitman. My videos about Nintendo games are all still there. Whether YouTube detects this from the video description or visual content or whatever algorithm it uses to categorize videos for YouTube Gaming is anyone's guess.”

The question is how YouTube’s algorithm works. While Brown’s Breath of the Wild video is considered objectionable, there are a number of Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield gameplay videos that can be watched while in restricted mode. Each of those videos contain violence and some contain vulgar language.

In a video released in December 2015, however, a representative of the company pointed out that the filters for restricted mode aren’t always 100 percent accurate. The company relies heavily on tagging and, most importantly, community flagging as a way of sorting out what should be restricted and what shouldn’t.

Logically, certain games shouldn’t be allowed to be viewed in restricted mode. Doom, for example, is known for its high level of violence and grotesque imagery, but there are versions of Doom gameplay videos that can be viewed in restricted mode. A speedrun of Doom from Awesome Games Done Quick, for example, shows off the full game even while in restricted mode.

There are more than 75.7 million YouTube videos that use the gaming tag or term in some way, making it difficult to see how many videos users have access to before restricted mode is turned on. It is a little easier if you look at it through specific channels, though. Shows like Kinda Funny, which often include vulgar language and sexual jokes, can be viewed in restricted mode. These videos also include gameplay from games that would otherwise be unavailable to those searching in restricted mode.

Gaijin Goombah, a YouTube creator with close to 500,000 subscribers, tweeted that his entire channel is undiscoverable if restricted mode is turned on. While many of his videos do contain violent gameplay footage or vulgarity, there are a few that don’t. These tend to be more educational and analytical — for games like Breath of the Wild — but even those Zelda videos are completely undiscoverable. He noticed that his traffic had been getting worse and he didn’t know why until he learned about restricted mode.

YouTube issued a statement last night claiming that restricted mode was supposed to be used to filter out mature content for a “tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience.” The company added it was looking into concerns from both creators and users.

Today, the company followed up with an acknowledgement that some videos had been “incorrectly labeled,” adding it was working on a solution to the problem. In a blog post, Johanna Wright, vice president of product management at YouTube, acknowledged that the company had failed.

“The bottom line is that this feature isn’t working the way it should,” Wright wrote. “We’re sorry and we’re going to fix it.”

Wright added that when the company first introduced the feature, the objective was to censor videos that included “profanity, those that depict images or descriptions of violence, or discussion of certain diseases like addictions and eating disorders.” Wright said about 1.5 percent of YouTube’s daily views come from users who have restricted mode turned on, but Wright recognized it wasn’t about numbers.

“While the system will never be 100 percent perfect, as we said up top, we must and will do a better job,” Wright said. “It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us. 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.”

More information on YouTube’s restricted mode can be read on the company’s website.