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Creators Say YouTube Censored 'Special Books by Special Kids' Channel Featuring Kids With Disabilities

On Thursday, Chris Ulmer and Alyssa Porter, who run the popular nonprofit, Special Books By Special Kids (SBSK), shared an emotional video with followers that accused YouTube of censoring their channel featuring people with disabilities by turning off comments — and shutting down the community — on all their videos. The channel, which has 1.2 million subscribers, was affected by YouTube’s efforts to stop predatory behaviors against minors on its platform.

On Feb. 22, Ulmer received a message alerting him of YouTube’s new initiative to reduce predation against minors on YouTube. The company informed him comments on his channel had been turned off, however, he had an option to turn them back on, which he did. Ulmer and Porter monitor comments on their videos closely and have an active community that is quick to alert them of inappropriate comments.

On March 7, Ulmer received another email from YouTube informing him comments on his channel would be disabled indefinitely with no option to turn them on. The company told him:

This week, for a subset of channels (including yours) we are taking additional steps to ensure that comments cannot be re-enabled, even with moderation, until we further improve our systems. This action is being taken on channels that feature minors and may be at higher risk for predatory comments.

Ulmer then corresponded with a YouTube representative, pointing out half of his videos did not feature children. He then asked if comments would be enabled on his channel for videos that don’t feature children. He also asked why his channel was not among a small number of channels able to keep their comments open by working alongside a YouTube moderation team.

According to Ulmer, the YouTube representative was unable to answer any of his questions. “I don’t have insight on the permanence of this action,” the representative stated. “Your channel was identified as a channel with a higher risk for predatory comments.”

On Thursday, Ulmer and Porter published their emotional video, informing the community what was taking place and asking their supporters to sign a petition so they could get YouTube comments reinstated. Their petition currently has more than 200,000 signatures.

Phuong Vu, a follower of Ulmer’s, highlighted why the comment section on SBSK’s YouTube videos was so important.

“It may just be a ‘comment section’ to some but as a community who follows, loves, respects and appreciates what this channel is doing we all need to be able to communicate by voicing our opinions and support one another,” Vu wrote in a Facebook comment on SBSK’s page. “The only way we can do this is with this one little ‘comment section’ which is a big thing to us.”

Another supporter, Amanda Hayes, said, “I pray they allow the comments again as I know the families and people whose stories you share love seeing the support they are getting from all around the world they get from each comment.”

Although Ulmer had scheduled a meeting with YouTube for a later date to discuss their channel, due to the reach of his video and the petition, YouTube asked for a phone conversation with Ulmer and Porter on Friday.

“They did not have anyone who could answer our questions,” Ulmer told The Mighty. “When we pressed for answers, they said it was because of sexually predatory comments.”

When asked for a statement by The Mighty about the specific situation with SBSK, a YouTube spokesperson provided the same general statement it had given Ulmer. The spokesperson said:

In an abundance of caution, we are going above and beyond our existing protections in the near term by disabling comments on videos that feature minors. We understand that comments are an important way creators build and connect with their audiences, we also know that this is the right thing to do to protect the YouTube community. Our goal is to protect creators and the broader ecosystem while we improve our systems.

When Ulmer and Porter asked YouTube representatives to see the predatory comments they were referring to, Ulmer said the representatives were unable to provide verification. He has never seen predatory comments on his channel.

“They refused to give me any information about it or proof,” Ulmer said. “When we asked to see [the comments] they said they did not have access to that, only higher-ups.”

Ulmer said channels with more followers or that are backed by big corporations don’t have their comments disabled, including Moonbug and Nickelodeon. 

Porter said during the call with YouTube, she asked about the requirements for SBSK to be considered to work alongside the YouTube moderation team to monitor comments. The YouTube representative said they were not being considered to work with a moderation team and, according to Porter and Ulmer, were not told why.

“Our community was robbed by YouTube,” Ulmer said of the decision. 

YouTube concluded its call with SBSK by saying there was nothing else Ulmer or Porter could do.

“YouTube said today there was no further action possible and they would not reinstate our comments,” Porter said. “Now we cannot have a conversation on disability when it is already stigmatized.” 

While Ulmer and Porter both agree that actions must be taken to protect children from predatory behavior online, they believe there has to be a conversation before a company unilaterally makes a decision without any clear guidance or appeal process. 

“This is complete censorship against the disability community,” Ulmer said. “It is discrimination.” 

Header image via Special Books by Special Kids’ Facebook page.

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