Recently, YouTube disabled comments on tens of millions of videos featuring minors as part of its increasingly aggressive crackdown on child predation. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcikci said the mass disabling was a “trade-off” for creators, who’d have to deal with it if they wanted YouTube to be safer for kids.
But Chris Ulmer and his partner Alyssa, who run the disability advocacy nonprofit Special Books by Special Kids (SBSK) and its associated YouTube channel, say the recent disabling of comments on their channel is discriminatory.
“YouTube has put in place discriminatory new actions to disable every single comments section on all of our videos,” Ulmer says in SBSK’s most recent upload. “I say that word–discriminatory–knowing the implications of it, and I mean it 100%. The reason this is discriminatory is because they’re doing it under the guise of protecting children from predators, but they’re only selecting certain channels.”
The couple allege that YouTube is only disabling comments on smaller channels (SBSK has 1.26 million subscribers, averages about 10 million views per month, and has received accolades for its content) that aren’t backed by corporations or other big sponsors. Channels owned by companies like Moonbug and Nickelodeon do still have comments disabled, but it’s possible those channels have agreed to manually monitor their comments.
Ulmer and Alyssa say when they appealed the disabling to YouTube, they had difficulty getting in contact with staff from the platform, and when they did get in contact, were only told their channel’s content has been deemed at high risk for attracting predatory comments.
SBSK’s primary content is interviews with disabled people. As Ulmer and Alyssa point out, their videos feature both disabled adults and disabled minors. The purpose of SBSK’s channel is to break stigmas surrounding disabled people, and help give disabled folks a platform to speak about their disabilities, their everyday lives, and their own advocacy. In their videos, SBSK and the people they interview frequently ask viewers who have questions about interviewees’ disabilties to reach out in the comments for help understanding.
Now, that line of communication is cut off. “This decision YouTube made, it is discriminatory,” Alyssa says. “It has real impacts for us as a nonprofit. Everyone in our videos says if you have a question, just ask. And now you can’t. You can’t ask anything. You can’t wonder, you can’t appreciate.”
“It destroys our mission because our mission is to show that disability is not intimidating,” Ulmer adds. “Now, you go to one of our videos and then you see that no, you can’t have a conversation with that person, you’re not allowed to talk to them. This person is at high risk for predatory comments.”
When YouTube began mass-disabling comments, it said that the majority of channels, large and small, with content regularly featuring minors would have comments disabled. The only channels allowed to keep comments on videos of minors would have to, as mentioned above, engage in rigorous, manual comment monitoring.
SBSK’s founders say they weren’t given the option to monitor their comment sections. They also say YouTube hasn’t explained why their content has been deemed high risk, because they’ve never found predatory comments on their videos.
“It’s so frustrating to know that you can create something so beautiful, so positive… A billion people across social media have seen our videos, and these platforms can just turn it off,” Ulmer says. “I feel like I have no control of my own destiny anymore, publishing on YouTube.”
Despite that, the couple say they intend to continue SBSK’s mission on the platform. But after attempting private negotiations with YouTube, they’re going public and asking their viewers to speak up in favor of getting their comments returned. To that end, they’ve started a petition on Change.org and are asking for 75,000 signatures. At posting time, less than 24 hours after the petition went live, it’s garnered 60,000 signatures.
“We at SBSK are fighting this blatant discrimination and censorship of the disability community,” they wrote in the petition’s description. “Our impact as a channel and a nonprofit is greatly limited without our comment section. We are heartbroken and angry for all that we have lost due to YouTube’s actions.”
Tubefilter reached out to YouTube for more information about why SBSK’s channel had comments disabled, and how YouTube is deciding which channels should have comments disabled. A YouTube spokesperson issued this statement in response:
“In an abundance of caution, we are going above and beyond our existing protections in the near term by disabling comments on videos that feature minors. We understand that comments are an important way creators build and connect with their audiences, we also know that this is the right thing to do to protect the YouTube community. Our goal is to protect creators and the broader ecosystem while we improve our systems.”
You can see SBSK’s petition here.