Monday, August 9, 2021

YouTube removes award-winning gay short film 'The Golden Pin' for violating its 'child safety policy', then reverses its decision

I've often complained that it seems YouTube, especially in recent years, suppresses queer content, mistreating it to a lower standard than it does equivalent mainstream content.  

But this week, I've seen the worst: my award-winning short film 'The Golden Pin', which has garnered 3.6 million views on YouTube since it was posted there in summer 2012, was suddenly taken down by YouTube, claiming, "it violates our child safety policy."  

This was the determination made by YouTube's algorithms nine years after the video had been posted!  

Wrote YouTube in an email to me:

"We realize this may be disappointing news, but it's our job to make sure that YouTube is a safe place for all. If you think we've made a mistake, you can appeal this decision - you'll find more details below.  As mentioned, we've removed your content because we think it violates our Community Guidelines. You can find specific information about these guidelines in the YouTube Help Center."

How does YouTube define its Child Safety Policy on its Community Guidelines page?  

"Content that targets young minors and families but contains sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for young audiences, is not allowed on YouTube.  YouTube doesn’t allow content that endangers the emotional and physical well-being of minors." 

It goes on to say that content that contains the sexualization of minors, harmful or dangerous acts involving minors, infliction of emotional distress on minors, misleading family content, or cyberbullying and harassment involving minors will not be allowed on YouTube under its child safety policy.  

If you've seen 'The Golden Pin' (which is available to view in full on the right,) you're probably confused how that film could be accused by any rational entity as endangering minors.  The content did not target minors, it targeted all audiences.  The YouTube listing since 2012 simply didn't ban minors from watching it because there was nothing in it inappropriate for those under 18, we believe.  And for nine years, it's been on their platform. 

The film depicts a closeted young gay Asian man who's torn between the expectations of his family who want him to marry a woman, and his gay lover.  It is a heart-felt, sensuous, thoughtful piece that won the Best Canadian Short award at the 2009 Inside Out Festival.  It is tame and offers little more than a kiss, in terms of physical action.  The themes are mature, but deal mostly with coming to terms with living an honest life, and finding acceptance and love in surprising places.  Nothing that could be considered as dangerous to child safety, in my opinion.  In fact, the film's depiction at the time of a young Asian man struggling with his sexuality was groundbreaking. 

I, of course, appealed this ridiculous decision, as I have appealed all previous bad decisions by YouTube against my videos. 

I wrote to YouTube this week: "Once again, your artificial bigotry algorithms have unfairly implemented homophobia.  YouTube has consistently removed innocuous gay content even though it presented harmless stories and characters that wouldn't rate anything higher than PG-13. Your anti-gay discrimination flagging this award-winning film about a young closeted Asian gay man is insulting.  Children who are destined to grow up gay, especially in Asian cultures, need representation to know they aren't alone in the world.  Your pathetic policies on YouTube, by flagging most gay content as a threat to 'child safety' denies youth needed representation and promotes homophobia. Shame on you.  This film has over 3.6 million views since it was uploaded in 2012.  The people have spoken. If you don't correct this error, YouTube is more homophobic than your A.I." 

Then today, a response from YouTube: 


"After taking another look, we can confirm that your content does not violate our Community Guidelines. Thanks for your patience while we reviewed this appeal. Our goal is to make sure content doesn't violate our Community Guidelines so that YouTube can be a safe place for all - and sometimes we make mistakes trying to get it right. We're sorry for any frustration our mistake caused you, and we appreciate you letting us know.  To make this right, your content has been reinstated."  

Sadly, this wasn't the first of my videos to be unfairly taken down by YouTube, forcing me over and over to appeal to get them back up.  The trailer to my new short film 'The Big Snore' (viewable on the top right of this blog) was repeatedly rejected from a YouTube advertising campaign for being "indecent", only to be reinstated after I appealed again and again.  

The artificial intelligence algorithms running YouTube are designed to highlight and promote anything that gets a lot of likes and attention.  And suppress things that get bad reactions from (some in) the mainstream, no matter how niche and vibrant the sub-market.  And as I've seen, completely remove content using bogus 'community guidelines' that always seem to determine queer content is "offensive." 

I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction against YouTube, which is facing lawsuits for its unfair discrimination against LGBTQ content creators.   

This investigation showed advertising-keyword blocklists like those maintained by YouTube are preventing the discovery of content about LGBTQ issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.

If true, that would definitely explain how LGBTQ content on my own channel has seen its views and revenues drop in recent years.  

It used to be that using a title like "Gay short film 'The Golden Pin'" could garner thousands of viewers seeking queer content and decent revenue.  That doesn't happen anymore.  

'The Golden Pin' earned 1.5 million views and over $1,600 CAD in its first year on YouTube.  In fact, today it now has 3,618,349 views and has earned almost $4,000 CAD.  

But YouTube changed its policies at some point after 2014 or so to keep more revenue for itself and its shareholders, and not run ads on most queer content.   Ad revenues on 'The Golden Pin' now are way down. 

My first short film as a director 'Tri-Curious' was released on YouTube in 2017 and also received 1.6 million views in its first year.  However, its ad revenues were only $189 CAD.   I've since taken 'Tri-Curious' off YouTube in order to license it to Dekkoo Films, a streaming service targeting gay men which actually pays filmmakers for their work, unlike YouTube. 

The situation was so discouraging, I didn't bother to post my latest short film 'The Big Snore' in its entirety on YouTube at all.  I couldn't bear the inevitable removals and declarations of "indecency" from YouTube, forcing me to appeal and appeal to keep my content on their site, just for what would be a pittance of views forced by YouTube's algorithms designed to make sure no one could find it (without launching an advertising campaign that would also probably be repeatedly rejected as "indecent" by those same algorithms.)   

So now 'The Big Snore' is only available on Dekkoo. 

I know that YouTube also targets other content such a far-right Christian and hate groups from posting content on its platform.  I agree there are legitimate reasons why some content should be removed in order to protect minors.  

But the net being cast by YouTube's algorithms is snagging innocuous queer content unfairly, including my own.  

'The Golden Pin' is not the queer equivalent to a far-right piece of hate propaganda targeting racial minorities or spreading misinformation about Covid.  

The latter examples should be taken down.  My film should be celebrated and keep the platform it deserves. 

There is no doubt in my mind now that artificial intelligence systems like those being used by YouTube are learning the worst of human prejudices to make decisions and all minority groups, including the LGBTQ community, must beware.