by Fred Kuhr
Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.
Less than 24 hours after San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter (BAR) contacted Google about the company’s removal of the GLBT Historical Society’s YouTube channel with only a vague reference to alleged violation of sexually explicit content rules, the site was back up.
“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,” the BAR reported. “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 GLBT Historical Society, which is headquartered in San Francisco, issued a press release about the removal on August 16. In response, a BAR reporter sent an email to Google seeking information about this. While Google didn’t respond to the agency’s request for 11 days, the journalist’s inquiry got a response in 30 minutes.
And 24 hours later, the channel was up and running again.
”I wanted to let you know that the channel was mistakenly terminated,” a Google spokesperson reportedly told the BAR, “and upon review it’s now available again on YouTube.”
The initial removal of the channel came without warning from Google, according to the organization. Google’s initial response to the group stated, ”We have reviewed the channel termination you appealed and confirm that it is in violation of our Community Guidelines. 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.”
This didn’t make sense to the group, according to the BAR’s reporting. So they contacted Google again seeking clarification. Google’s second response read, “I have checked with the comments from the specialist team, and unfortunately, we can’t give more information on this. 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.”
The group had previously run into problems with Facebook as well. Co-interim executive director Andrew Shaffer told the BAR that he doesn’t blame Google per se, but “YouTube trolls.”
“Their goal is both to make queer people invisible and to drain our resources by pulling us into unnecessary battles,” Shaffer told the BAR. “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 being contacted by the BAR, the historical society received a letter from Google.
“After carefully reviewing your channel, our specialist team agreed to reinstate your channel,” the letter stated. “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.”
“We’ve been trying hard not to blame YouTube,” Shaffer told the BAR. “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.”
As the BAR noted, even though the channel is back online, Google has yet to apologize.
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