[UPDATE]: Added some more concerning impacts – 2017-03-22
I’m going to be personal for a little bit here. I’m not comfortable with it because it’s still a mess in my head. But I think I’m past overdue about it and, also, it will probably help making some points later.
It took me thirty years to understand that I’m bisexual. That I’m not straight. It took me that long because I didn’t knew it was possible. I didn’t knew that the sexual attraction I had for boys was not something that everyone else was going through and that no one spoke about.
I’m thirty seven years old now. And when I look back, I can only assume that my current mental state of severe depression is more than probably linked to the fact that I suppressed those impulse, to behave like everyone else.
Let’s do the time warp and go back in time.
The first tie I was confronted to homosexuality, was in elementary school, where faggots was used as a slur. Since I was there during the nineties, it was also associated with AIDS. Still as a slur.
In high school, when my father got incarcerated for sexual assault on minor – and some friends of mine – I closed myself to others. No internet yet, and so my social input were made by the only representation available there : heteronormativity (and no, there’s no way I would have been able to spot and understand it), I locked deep down inside me my attraction to boys. I was also scared (and have been for almost twenty years now) that this attraction to boys was in fact paedophilia, that I would have inherited from my father.
I landed on Internet in 1997. Mainly inside roll play communities, but since I did not knew I was queer, there was no possibility to get access to those communities.
Same for most of my studies. I’ve never been in contact with queers, lesbians, gays, bis, trans*. I did not understood what the lyrics of Queen’s song meant, I will still fighting most of my feelings, learning to lie to anyone about anything (because of course, I had to lie about my father, you know, everyone keeps asking “what are you’re parent doing for a living” and you cannot really answer “he’s locked in jail”, so you lie. Constantly, to anyone about anything, it doesn’t help).
And even if I managed to get that they’re was gays and lesbians somewhere, bisexuality was kind of something limited to a sexual fetish in my world. And I was trying to blend in, to disappear, to have everyone not asking questions. I’m very good at it now, to not answer questions and to lie, sometimes without thinking (yeah, I do have a good score on “Are you a sociopath ?” tests).
The first time I encountered a non straight and out person was quite late in my life. It was at Le Loop’s Grand Opening, and quota_atypique happened to be there and, since she was doing an ethnology study of the hackerspaces – it was around January 2011 all the hype didn’t got there – and I think she told me she was lesbian (she did come out as bi later) in probably less than 10s after saying “Hi”.
I’m not sure I’ve thanked you for that Quota, but meeting you did have an … interesting … impact on my life. From there we met at the hackerspace, talks about stuff (from the beauty of command line interfaces to being queer in hackerspaces). It was at this time that I got involved in Telecomix too. A lot of conference was happening in Paris, and I did some about inclusions of people (not only women, but also trans* in the hackers communities. I build up a political culture from the popular one.
I met my boyfriend later on (I did get through a tough breakup before that, questioning my ability to manage a single dedicated relationship) at the Congress, even if we started dating later. We were in 2013 or something like that (or 2014, I suck at time frames). It took me a lot of time to accept it, to fight the interiorized shame, and to admit it.
We’re in 2017 now. I’m still not fully at ease with it, but it gets better. And when I look at all this pain I’ve been through, that could have been avoided if, like teenagers and kids today, I did have access to all this queer material, online communities, accessible without especially looking for it, at least we – the ones who grew up alone during the nineties – will be the last ones suffering from invisibility.
The main reason it took me 32 fucking years and part of my depression is because I didn’t have access to the possibility of a positive alternative of bisexuality. It was just invisible hidden. To know it wasn’t a shame, that you could be happy being bi and, it required to actively search for content.
And this is why I’m shaking with rage and anger while writing this (but Show Must Go On is playing now and helps me keep t under control).
YouTube, for the one of you who lived in a cave for the last ten years, is a media broadcasting company, which pays itself by selling targeting advertisement to its customers. One of the side effect of their product is that it happens they’re quite good at hosting and promoting videos, clips, documentaries, and whatever you can imagine doing with those cheap camera.
For years free software activists have advocated against the danger of this kind of platform. I’m going to speak a lot about YouTube, but have a look at the #FreeTheNipple campaign on Facebook or Twitter, the censorship of nudity on most of the platform powered by Apple or Facebook.
So, YouTube create a Restricted mode. Before they did that, there was a flag that – as an uploader – you could activate to hide explicit content (mostly nudity) and which would have requires someone to log in to see the content. And a way to report content that you think were offensive.
And there were copyright bots in charge of removing or monetizing content in violation of Intellectual Property basically killing fair use, one example I do like, is the Edward VS Buffy video.
But, in the end, uploaders and creators were able to post whatever contents they wanted without too much intervention from YouTube Inc. or Alphabet or whatever is the name of the thing that’s supposed to manage the platform.
What they did with the Restricted Mode is one step toward nullification on alternatives-cultures. Let’s get a little into details about what this filter exists, and speculation about the why, what are the impact and why it sucks.
What is it ?
From YouTube’s page:
Restricted Mode is an optional setting that you can use to help screen out potentially mature content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see.
So, it looks like Parental filter for youtube. They’ll defed themselves by saying it’s an optional features, but I bet it will be on by default until you log in not s long in the future.
But what is ‘potentially mature’ content you’ll ask ? Well, it’s not defined. But it appears that all LGBT content is considered as ‘potentially mature’. There’s a lot of outrage about it, I’ll just quote an article from The Independent in which a Youtube spokesperson say that the potentially mature content is – and I quote, in bold character, with emphasis :
A YouTube spokesperson later clarified that those more sensitive issues are particularly videos that cover subjects like “health, politics and sexuality”.
Basically, if YouTube thinks that you might potentially talk about politics, then you’ll be hidden in Restricted Mode. One of the first collaterals is the fact that, under Restricted mode, most of the queer produced content is off-limits. Some tests were run, just having the word “gay” in a video title is enough to have it blocked.
My guess is that they did not specifically target a community. And we’re lucky that queers can be loud, other communities have probably been targeted and e don’t now which ones yet. Well, they didn’t intentionally targeted us.
Alphabet is currently having some issues with their customers (brands who wants to rent advertisement space online). For instance, they placed ads on extremists website, which raised concern with brands – no one really wants to get associated with neo-nazis. See here for instance.
So, Alphabet made a promise to their customers. We will be able to display your advertisement right next to the content that would improve your return on investment. For that they need to be sure that no one will associate neo-nazis with a brand of lipstick. That’s why they need the Restricited mode.
They need to create a consensual public space, which will suits their customers. A space where you won’t talk about politics, where you won’t talk about sexuality, where everything is about the mainstream culture.
The mainstream culture, for advertisement purposes. The culture of heteronormativity, of whiteness, of sexism. The culture which has no issue with anyone as long as they comply, hide their differences, and consume goods targeted specifically for them on a large scale.
Assimilation or death is basically what the restricted mode is. It is the removal from a public space of everything which does not match the cultural consensus, and this cultural consensus has no room left for us.
Lots of them.
Beyond the invisibilisation which will makes life of all those teenager and person questioning themselves a lot harder, which will lead to isolation (if you know no one with whom you can share it gets harder to construct yourself) and depression; there’s also the end of anonymity for everyone who want to access anything beyond the Restricted Mode.
You do not have to log in yet. But Google do not needs you to log in to know who you are and what you’re watching. It gets worse with restricted mode because it states that you’re explicitely calling for access to ‘potentially offensive’ content when you disables it. Which in some country, might be illegal or otherwise gets you in trouble. It also means that they’re not making any difference about a sex-ed video and pornography.
Or maybe you’ll be in places where you do not know the restricted mode is enable,d for instance on a high school of family computer. And you have question about your personal health – like how to get an abortion. You just won’t be able to find any content, which is endangering people, not getting them safe.
The impact on creator of those videos, some of them trying to earn some money with it – using patreon or other similar platform for instance – is even bigger. Making content online, maintaining a community, informing them, entertaining them is, sometimes, one of the few recourse left to queers to earn their life. Being Restricted will cut them from their community and from getting new viewers.
And the beauty of it is, the more you have content flagged as restricted, the more you’ll be restricted in the future.
We are not alone
At this point, and after getting back home on my bike, I fellethat there’s more to it. Using those three specifics topix “health”, “politics” and “sexuality” YouTube cand decide to silence any community of their chosing.
I said earlier that they weren’t purposedly targetting queers, I’m not so sure about it. They want a consnsual space of pure entertainment they can sell to advertisers who wants to target the dominant part of the society (because they’re theone consumng ost of their products).
But really the issue is that they can silence any one who can potentially speak about politics, health or politics. And since a lot of woman can potentially speaks about feminism, woman health, reproductive rights, You Tube can use this to silence any women on they’re platform.
Which, when the platform is one of the most used one, having a wider audience than the classic television networks, is basically removing them from public space.
They can decde that all rap music is potentially politics and removes it from Restricted Mode. As well as a lot of punk or any other political content. They already removed some Lady Gaga content.
And getting removed from public space, is being removed from politics and policies. If you cannot show that you exists, then – from a society point of view – you do not exists, ergo you do not need your needs to be fulfilled, you do not need abortion clinics, you do not need full adoption, you do not needs rights, because you do not exists.
Where do we go from here
YouTube Restricted ban is a blatant statement that minorities are not a priori concern of a multi billion company. It shouldn’t be news to anyone, but we were tolerated there, not warmly welcomed.
And even if YouTube says they will try to fix the issue, the fact that you cannot talk about sex on a video without getting Restricted is a hell of an issue.
The issue here is that we let a private interest to manage a public space of expression. The only solution is to build other platforms. To create our own medias, to fight assimilation.
Internet has always been about decentralisation getting your content online, sharing information without filters but since the advertisement took over one of the big chunk of it (heck, even getting into your phone and homes to gather data), this decentralisation is dying.
It’s never too late, there’s a lot of alternatives a=out there. But we need to accept that the road will not be easy. Storage and bandwidth are expensive, architecture costs human time to be maintained and improved. Some groups are working on it, they need our support.
I know that Framasoft is working on a tube-like platform for instance. But we, as a community, need to accept that we’re not welcome anymore on YouTube. We also need to ensure who else has been left out the Restricted mode.
And we need to move out of the advertisement business. I refuse to comply to