News

Community Captions Scrapped By YouTube, Despite Public Outcry

Deaf creators and organisations were amongst those who expressed concerns over axing the tool, which allowed viewers to submit captions to a channel.

In a Community post on YouTube’s Help Center, an employee writes: “When we announced the deprecation of the Community Contributions feature in July 2020, we mentioned future plans for better captioning tools, but didn’t share specifics or details at that time (which understandably caused additional questions and feedback about the deprecation).

“We’re currently rolling out a new version of Captions Editor in YouTube Studio, which makes it easier for creators to upload, edit and insert subtitles and captions on their own videos.”

They go on to add that the new editor will use a “smart timing feature” to speed up captioning, which will see the system try to sync the words to the video whilst the captions are being written.

They continue: “Next year, we plan to introduce a ‘Trusted Captioner’ role, which is a new Channel Permission in YouTube Studio that allows creators to delegate caption creation on their channel to those they trust.

“We’ve heard a lot of creators say they need to share the work of captioning with others, and we’ve also heard how meaningful it is for people to create captions for their favorite creators – we hope this feature achieves some of that.”

The article also sees YouTube confirm the extension of its Amara subscription offer to 12 months and the rollout of a new model for its automatic captions, which it says has “drastically decreased word error rates”.

The decision to deprecate community captions follows an announcement by the social media platform in July, when it was revealed that the feature would be deprecated due to spam and low usage.

“Both creators and viewers have reported problems with the community contributions feature, including spam, abuse, and low quality submissions.

“As a result, the feature is rarely used with less than 0.001% of channels having published community captions (showing on less than 0.2% of watch time) in the last month.

“Instead, creators are using YouTube’s alternative captioning tools,” an article on YouTube’s Help Center reads.

The post went on to say that eligible creators would be able to access a free six-month subscription to the third party captioning site Amara once the feature was removed.

However, the decision was met with strong criticism by creators, viewers and organisations – including those from the deaf community.

In a YouTube video, deaf campaigner and content creator Rikki Poynter said that there were “a few things wrong” with the view that people aren’t using the feature.

“One, people are using it, and you know this because I’ve told you, the deaf community has told you and the disabled community.

“Basically, everybody who’s using it has told you and it’s a lot of people.

“Secondly, if anybody’s not using it, it’s because your system was always broken and we told you this, and you did absolutely nothing to fix it.

“If you have a broken system that you are absolutely refusing to fix or ignoring the problems, how do you think anyone’s going to actually use it,” she said.

Other creators also spoke out against YouTube’s plans, including Phil Lester (AmazingPhil), Emma Blackery and Hank Green, who said taking the feature away “without any way of replacing the good with it is kinda inexcusable”.

Viewers also criticised the move, with the hashtag #DontRemoveYouTubeCCs trending in the UK and US, and over half a million people signing a Change.org petition calling on YouTube to reverse its decision.

In a statement to this website in August, Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said: “Many deaf and hard of hearing people have contacted the NAD to express their concerns and anger about YouTube’s announcement to end community contributions.”

Meanwhile, the British Deaf Association told BBC Newsbeat that the feature “brings together communities, to increase accessibility and awareness”.

“This decision puts up further barriers for deaf people’s access to enjoy non-signed videos, since the standard of auto-generated captions are poor and should not be considered as a viable substitute,” they said.

The charity Action on Hearing Loss also raised concerns, urging YouTube to “engage directly with the deaf community” and “consider the barrier people with hearing loss face” on the platform.

While YouTube faced backlash after the announcement earlier this year, they did not respond publicly to feedback until the feature was removed on Monday.

A video expanding on their decision was was uploaded to the Creator Insider channel in July, but was unlisted, meaning only those with the link to the content could access it.

In the YouTube Community post, the platform also revealed that a Creator Insider video expanding on the new creator features will be released later today.

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