After inquiry from B.A.R., GLBT Historical Society's YouTube channel is restored

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 17, 2022
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Within 24 hours of being contacted by the Bay Area Reporter, Google restored the GLBT Historical Society's YouTube channel. Photo: Screengrab<br>
Within 24 hours of being contacted by the Bay Area Reporter, Google restored the GLBT Historical Society's YouTube channel. Photo: Screengrab

Within 24 hours of being contacted by the Bay Area Reporter, Google has restored the GLBT Historical Society's YouTube channel that was suddenly taken down last month with little explanation other than an alleged violation of sexually explicit content.

The historical society, which often deals frankly with matters of sex in a historic context, isn't exactly what most might think of as a racy organization. So, it was a surprise back on July 27 when society employees found that their YouTube channel, consisting largely of recordings of past educational events and programs, had been shut down by Google, which owns YouTube.

The society issued a news release August 16 about the issue. A B.A.R. reporter sent an email to Google, inquiring about the termination of the society's account. While, co-interim executive director of the society, and his staff had to wait 11 days for a response, the reporter got one in half an hour.

A Google employee named Elena responded to the B.A.R., stating that she needed the URL for the channel to investigate. The reporter responded and — voila! — 24 hours later, the channel was restored.

"I wanted to let you know that the channel was mistakenly terminated," Elena said, in another message to the B.A.R., "and upon review it's now available again on YouTube."

The initial removal of the channel had come without any warning, according to a statement by the society, despite the fact that the organization hadn't knowingly posted anything that might be considered untoward.

"We do have some explicit content in our museum," said Andrew Shaffer, a gay man, but he noted that archival material doesn't get posted online. Occasionally, though, the society will "park" videos for eventual use in the museum on the YouTube channel, Shaffer said, but even that's for a very short time.

A few days after its channel — which has all of 466 subscribers — was shut down, the society contacted YouTube. Eleven days later, it received a response.

"We have reviewed the channel termination you appealed and confirm that it is in violation of our Community Guidelines," the response read. "Explicit content meant to be sexually gratifying is not allowed on YouTube. Posting pornography may result in content removal or channel termination. Videos containing fetish content will be removed or age-restricted. In most cases, violent, graphic, or humiliating fetishes are not allowed on YouTube. Upon review, we have decided to keep your account terminated due to repeated or severe violations of our Community Guidelines. You won't be able to access or create any other YouTube accounts."

With this, society staff still weren't even sure which video YouTube was talking about. They sent another request for further information. YouTube responded.

"I have checked with the comments from the specialist team, and unfortunately, we can't give more information on this," stated the response. "The internal team had decided to keep your account terminated due to repeated or severe violations of our Community Guidelines. You won't be able to access or create any other YouTube accounts."

Now, not only did the society not have access to their channel and the myriad videos it had posted there, it still didn't know what had caused the offense.

According to Shaffer, the society had run into problems on Facebook, as well, as the B.A.R. has previously reported.

"On Facebook we had posts taken down, or campaigns canceled," he said.

Actually, it's been a bit of a problem for the society. It isn't unusual to find out that trolls, whose sole motivation seems to be trying to have LGBTQ content — no matter how un-racy it might be — removed from online. That had happened with Facebook, which the society doesn't even use anymore as a result, Shaffer said, and now, it was happening with YouTube.

Shaffer said he doesn't believe it was an intentional act by YouTube, however, he blames these sorts of problems squarely on what he referred to as "YouTube trolls."

"Their goal is both to make queer people invisible and to drain our resources by pulling us into unnecessary battles," Shaffer stated. "We know that anti-LGBTQ forces will never succeed in completely erasing us, but they are succeeding in wasting our limited time and resources. This is not the first time we have spent hours working with social media companies to reinstate posts and accounts that were flagged and removed in error, and it almost certainly will not be the last time."

After the channel was restored, the historical society also received a letter from Google, this time from a woman named Sophie.

"After carefully reviewing your channel, our specialist team agreed to reinstate your channel," Sophie wrote. "One video ... was found to be violative of our Community Guidelines, specifically our Nudity and Sexual content policies, as it contained explicit or implied depictions of sex acts for the purpose of Nudity & sexual content policies — YouTube Help sexual gratification and depicting masturbation. As a result, the video will remain down and a warning was applied to your channel. You can learn more about what this means for you, through this article on Strikes and warnings."

Shaffer, happy to have the society's channel back, still isn't absolutely sure which video was the culprit but he suspects it may have been a video about the leather scene and, more than likely, there was a clip or an image of something that probably would have raised hackles at YouTube. That video, which had been up for a year and had been seen by eight people, ended up on YouTube because of a user error back at the offices of the society, he said.

Still, Shaffer"s frustrated that it took three weeks and work time that could have been put to better use.

"We've been trying hard not to blame YouTube," Shaffer told the B.A.R. "There are people actively looking for queer content so they can flag it and get it removed. The platforms don't know how to deal with that, and the onus falls on the people whose content gets removed."

And no one from Google has apologized.

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