Opinion

YouTube, you’ve forgotten disabled creators again

YouTube’s rolling out a voluntary creator survey to monitor their impact on different communities, but unsurprisingly, they’ve failed to consider disabled people.

In a time when algorithmic bias is once again under scrutiny –  no doubt prompted by the ongoing discussion around racism in modern society – YouTube’s Vice President of Product Management Johanna Wright releases a blog post sharing the video platform’s solution.

“Today, we’re announcing a new effort to help us more proactively identify potential gaps in our systems that might impact a creator’s opportunity to reach their full potential,” she writes. “Starting in 2021, YouTube will ask creators on a voluntary basis to provide us with their gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. We’ll then look closely at how content from different communities is treated in our search and discovery and monetization systems.”

Wright continues to say that YouTube will be monitoring for potential patterns of hate, harassment and discrimination on the platform, and that any data submitted can be deleted by the creator and won’t be used for advertising purposes.

Yet, there is a glaring omission. In the relatively short list of demographics detailed in this blog post, disability has not been mentioned. It is unclear whether this is just a group they didn’t include, or one they have chosen not to focus on altogether. At the time of writing, YouTube have not responded to several requests for comment about this.

Their failure to acknowledge disabled people in this instance may seem minor or insignificant, but at worst, it suggests that YouTube does not consider the possibility that disabled people may, potentially, be negatively impacted by the platform’s systems.

Unfortunately, the examples to suggest otherwise are all too recent. A captions setting designed to filter out ‘potentially inappropriate’ words now replaces swear words with ‘[…]’ – something criticised by deaf campaigners as “infantilising”. Meanwhile, their decision to scrap community captions is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds three months later.

Or, if we were to turn away from captions and focus on monetisation – an area which YouTube aims to look into with this voluntary survey – then it was only as recent as 2017 that disabled creators were highlighting issues with their content being demonetised.

Wright’s blog post then goes on to add that YouTube will consult with creators on the survey as its development, with an initial launch in the US planned for early next year. Let us hope that it includes discussions with disabled people, to not only ensure YouTube captures data on this community, but that any online survey is accessible, too.

With any consultation the social media platform plans to conduct, it is also important that it is meaningful. One would hope that YouTube has learned their lesson after they only spoke to three deaf creators (out of 37 creators total) about their decision to deprecate community contributions in September – something which the deaf and disabled community expressed strong opposition to.

More information about the voluntary creator survey can be found on YouTube’s official blog.

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