What the Beck?

By Josh Beck

Social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube can provide endless entertainment. Twitter is a great place to find spectacular commentary on The Bachelor such as, “can we just do a full episode where we get the back stories on all of their terrible tattoos”. If video content is more your thing, then you can find life-changing videos like Jenna Marbles doing her own acrylic nails… on her toes. Unfortunately, these two social media websites aren’t always fun and games.

Policing content has been a constant thorn in the side of most social media websites. Masses of people relentlessly come at these websites with caps lock turned on and digital pitchforks raised high. They decry the harassment and perceived censorship that occurs, creating rocky roads for Twitter and YouTube to travel on – and neither of them manoeuvre those roads particularly well.

In recent years YouTube has become notorious for the fall out that occurs following changes to its website. Recently they ran into controversy with their seven-year-old “restricted mode” feature. The feature was initially intended to make YouTube safe for use in schools. A change to the algorithm, however, caused this mode to start hiding, among other “inappropriate” content, LGBTQ+ channels and videos.

Let me just tell you, I spend a significant portion of my time Googling shirtless pictures of Justin Bieber. This should not mean content I upload to YouTube is automatically restricted. I can appreciate an algorithm censoring content isn’t always going to be completely accurate. What this censorship of LGBTQ+ identities tells me, though, is LGBTQ+ people are still often seen as inherently inappropriate, even if just on a subconscious level.

This wouldn’t bother me so much if YouTube hadn’t responded to people pointing this out by essentially denying it was happening. They said, “LGBTQ+ videos are available in restricted mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be”. This is a hard pill to swallow when coming out videos were hidden from users en masse. If a person simply talking about their sexuality is considered a “sensitive issue” to YouTube, then their efforts to appear LGBTQ+ friendly begin to look like a façade.

YouTube is a business. As a business it has always struggled to balance keeping its users, advertisers and piggy banks happy. If the changes to the restricted mode were part of a process to appease their advertisers, that’s almost understandable. I don’t think YouTube would cause as much outrage if its users were kept informed as to when and why changes were happening. With limited information available to them, I don’t blame users for often immediately jumping to the worst conclusions.

Twitter also hit a bump in the road recently when they changed their default Twitter profile from an egg to a grey, gender-neutral, human silhouette. The egg has been the default photo for the last seven years.  Users who come to the website specifically to troll and harass other people are usually there for a mean time, not a long time. This means that more often than not they never bother changing their profile picture from the egg. As a result of this the egg has over the years become synonymous with harassment and hate.

Twitter’s rationale behind this change was that new users who planned to use the service appropriately and positively were being associated with trolls’ negative behaviour. While it’s true that this is unfair, I fail to see how this solution will change anything. The new default profile photo will eventually get a bad rap just as the egg did and we’ll all be back to square one. That’s not to mention that Twitter seems to be completely ignoring the most important issue at hand – the harassment of their users.

All too often social media websites say that they’re listening to their users and then respond in either ineffective or unrelated ways. It sucks, but Twitter and YouTube have real no obligation to go above to the suggestions and complaints from their users. If positive change is to occur on these websites then they need to be shown that these band-aid solutions won’t cut it. We need to continue to be loud in expressing our disapproval and disappointment of their actions until they have no choice but to listen. After all, without their users these websites wouldn’t continue to exist.


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