YouTube inexplicably eliminates comments on channel for kids with disabilities

Special Books by Special Kids/YouTube

Is this really the content we want to stifle?

YouTube‘s fight to clean up its platform has found a new victim—Special Books by Special Kids.

A video made by the couple behind SBSK shot to the top of Reddit last night. In it, Chris Ulmer and his partner Alyssa lament the decision by YouTube to disable all comments for their channel.

The channel aims to normalize the conversation around disabilities. The duo described as a channel that “seeks to normalize the diversity of the human condition under the pillars of honesty, respect, mindfulness, positivity and collaboration,” SBSK aims to celebrate people in whatever package they came in.

The past few months have seen YouTube on a tireless campaign to better moderate content created for or featuring young children. Following several widespread scandals, YouTube is cracking down on any videos they see as endangering kids. Over the past few months, we’ve seen videos for children edited to include promotion of self-harm, the reported appearance of the Momo challenge on YouTube Kids, and in specific cases the discovery of predatory behavior in the comment sections of videos.

These issues are important. In an attempt to curtail predatory comments, YouTube has systematically disabled comment sections for entire channels. For some, like the channel Girls Couture Club, the move came in response to multiple occurrences of predatory behavior. For SBSK, it seemed to come completely out of the blue.

In the comment section on Reddit, Ulmer gave some background on the channel. “SBSK started while I was a teacher to children with mild to moderate disabilities,” he said. “In my 3rd year in the classroom, the vlog started with the collaboration of my students, their parents and our school. The idea was to allow our students to advocate within our community. It was a major success. Well….until now.”

YouTube disabled the comment section of the channel Special Books by Special Kids under the guise of thwarting predatory behavior, despite the fact that this channels sole purpose is to give kids and adults with disabilities a platform for their voice to be heard. from videos

In the video uploaded Wednesday evening, Chris and Alyssa break down why comments are so important to their channel. “There is so much lost when you look at comments not being there,” Alyssa said. “There are videos of people who’ve passed away,” Chris added. “And their parents read the comments as a way of keeping their kid alive. And now they’re gone.”

A 2017 BBC profile of Chris and the people he interviews made particular note of comments. One post, about a boy who survived a brain bleed and stroke, had upwards of 8,000 comments, according to the BBC story. It shows the impact that SBSK videos can have on a community looking for support and love.

In the video, Chris and Alyssa call the move by YouTube “discriminatory,” in part due to what seems to them like specific targeting of smaller channels. “I say that word ‘discriminatory’ knowing the implications of it,” Chris said. “And I mean it 100 percent. The reason this is discriminatory is because they’re doing it under the guise… of protecting children from predators. But, they’re only selecting certain channels.”

The two note that several larger kids channels, those with “corporate or advertisers behind them” have not been affected. “They’re not being impacted at all, even if their content is more subjective to the type of predation that they’re trying to combat,” Alyssa said.

If the comment section for the post on Reddit—a site with a reputation far from being wholesome—are any indication, SBSK is golden. Love, compassion, and support flowed through nearly every comment.

“Chris, I’ve watched you for years now,” foxbluesocks wrote. “My daughter (8) was diagnosed with Autism at a very early age. When we found out, I wasn’t in the best headspace but I found your channel and the positivity you radiate changed my entire way of thinking about not only my daughter but with all people who face challenges every day and to see the person for who they really are.”

If these comments are any reflection of the community Chris and Alyssa built, YouTube needs to rethink its actions. We need more positivity on the internet, and stifling it in the rare moments it crops up would be a terrible act indeed.

The Daily Dot reached out to YouTube and SBSK for comment, but has not heard back.

Update 12:00pm CT, March 20: YouTube eventually responded to multiple inquiries from Alyssa and Chris. “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,” YouTube said.

In an emailed statement, Alyssa and Chris explained why they feel YouTube’s policy discriminates against channels like SBSK. “YouTube’s ‘abundance of caution’ is an inconsistent and discriminatory action,” they said. “While smaller channels like SBSK are being silenced completely, their caution wains when it comes to channels with corporate backings and large subscriber counts.”

They pointed to channels like Toddlers and Tiaras, which does not appear to have comments disabled. SBSK has no history of predatory comments, according to their statement, and no previous strikes.

“Our channel is one of the largest disability advocacy communities in the world,” the statement continues. “Our comment sections are as vital to our mission as the videos themselves. We support the protection of minors on YouTube, but will not allow our community to become collateral damage as part of a policy geared more at appeasing advertisers than providing for real change on their platform. An ‘abundance of caution’ would demand an equal and systematic approach, without that not only is the policy they’ve outlined ineffective but also discriminatory.”

Change.org petition to reopen SBSK’s comment section gained 300,000 signatures in 48 hours. The petition now has 327,000 signatures and counting.

Nahila Bonfiglio

Nahila Bonfiglio

Nahila Bonfiglio reports on geek culture and gaming. Her work has also appeared on KUT's Texas Standard (Austin), KPAC-FM (San Antonio), and the Daily Texan.