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New YouTube Automatic Captions Setting Criticised By Deaf Campaigners

Deaf activists Rikki Poynter and Andrew Parsons are amongst those who have criticised the text replacement tool, describing it as ‘infantilizing’.

The default feature, which was rolled out to all users on Friday, sees “potentially inappropriate” words in YouTube’s automatically generated captions replaced with ‘[__]’.

In a series of photos shared to her Instagram and Twitter, Deaf content creator Rikki Poynter wrote that the tool “is not a good idea”.

“The point of closed captioning is to type what is being said no matter what is being said. This includes swear words.

“The words are already being said out loud, censoring the words is infantilizing deaf people, especially adults.

“We know what is being said. We can see it on the lips.

“Censoring it is treating us like children,” the post reads.

Meanwhile, Deaf campaigner Andrew Parsons tweeted: “Oh wow, YouTube enforcing censoring swear words in the automatic captions feels more infantilizing than on-disabled parents pushing back against caption users complaining to Netflix about censorship in PG-13+ TV shows.

“One video I know the person uses F-bomb regularly and automatic captions is ‘[__]’, ‘[__] off’, ‘[__] ton’, and ‘[__] ing’ all over the place.

“There is a huge difference between censoring yourself, and someone else doing the censoring,” they said.

The introduction of the feature follows reports of the n-word being inserted into the automatic captions, which rely on speech recognition, when the word wasn’t said in the video itself.

In an article explaining the tool, a Google employee writes: “Because our automatic captions can make mistakes, we want to be extra careful not to caption certain words incorrectly.

“So to better avoid these mistakes, viewers will now see “[ __ ]” appear instead of a potentially inappropriate word (when auto-generated subtitles/closed captions are turned on during playback).”

They went on to add that this is the default setting for automatic captions, which can be turned off and does not apply to manual captions.

When presented with Andrew’s tweets about the feature feeling “infantilizing”, the spokesperson responded by stressing that the tool is being implemented to prevent words which are potentially inappropriate from appearing in the site’s automatic captions by mistake.

More information about the new text replacement setting can be found on the YouTube Help website.

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