When local YouTube icon David Levitz opened his Twitter account on the morning of March 19, he was drawn into the spiral of YouTubers blasting their host site for its new “Restricted Mode.”
Levitz, an active YouTuber user for the last seven years, created a channel with videos of him commenting on anything from the latest pop culture to his life as a gay man.
“It’s nothing new to see YouTubers get mad about changes to YouTube’s structure,” says Levitz. But the new mode went beyond that.
It began as a way for parents to block offensive or objectionable content from younger viewers. But it turned into what seemed like a political statement -- overwhelmingly targeting the LGBT community.
When a user turns on Restricted Mode, an algorithm filters out any and all content it deems “sensitive.” But users soon noticed that much of the blocked involved videos discussing or related to LGBT issues.
“It’s fairly random the videos they chose to restrict, which leads me to believe that it might have just been some sort of faulty coding,” says Levitz. “I am hesitant to think that YouTube purposely was targeting LGBT channels.”
Within a few hours, YouTubers across the board had taken to their social media in outrage.
“This was something that, definitely within the first day, you had it kind of catch fire,” says Levitz. Even openly gay YouTube celebrity Tyler Oakley, a prominent user whose content is often picked up by channels like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, commented on the ordeal.
“Tyler Oakley tweeted about it, which probably alerted the bigwigs about it,” says Levitz.
YouTube released a statement that many saw as a non-apology. It stated that “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 apologized for the confusion and assured users they were looking into problems.
Of Levitz’s 28 LGBT videos in the original block, only 5 remained unrestricted. Since then, 9 more have been unrestricted, a sign that work is being done on the programming.
Many YouTubers tweeted out photos comparing their channels in the two modes, noting that anything with the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” and the like in the title, tags, or description were all gone.
The LGBT community wasn’t the only one hit. Model and comedian Jenna Marbles had over 30 videos blocked as well, and her channel is unsearchable.
But the main concern was that it took away a lot of the educational videos that help young people come out with pride and not feel so alone.
“Both ‘How to Be Gay in High School’ and ‘How to Be Gay in College’ are restricted and those are my two best performing gay videos,” says Levitz. “Those are the ones that were in Huffington Post. Those are the two that I think are really great entry points for any LGBT youth questioning his or her sexuality.”
What wasn’t restricted? His video entitled “Nick Jonas Shirtless, OMG.”
“This does piss me off a little bit, because if I want youth to see anything, I would much rather them see those important videos than me fan-girling about a shirtless Nick Jonas,” says Levitz. “I think that YouTubers have made a big stink and if this is not on YouTube’s mind to revise this feature, then I am not sure what more will get their attention.”
Although there has clearly been some work done, and a second response with more of an explanation has been made by YouTube, many still believe improvements need to be made. These include more varied restriction levels instead of an all-or-nothing solution.
“[They’re blocking] anything gay, really, but not everything gay,” says Levitz.