People who want to watch the video on YouTube of John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band’s Christmas standard “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” must first sign into their account to confirm their age, as well as accept a trigger warning – as the giant has decided that this content might be inappropriate for some users.
The video has been viewed over 20 million times since 2010, and the description contains the song’s lyrics – making it easy enough for anyone to check if the song’s message of celebration of peace and Christmas is in fact inappropriate.
Those who jump over the mandatory sign-in hurdle will be able to see the video itself, which is likely what triggered some overzealous algorithm to flag it. “Happy Xmas” was released in 1971 as a protest song against the war in Vietnam, and the latest version of the video combines imagery of suffering from that war, but also some subsequent conflicts from around the world.
YouTube has attached a notice to the video stating that access to it has been restricted based on Community Guidelines, and a link to them. These guidelines, in turn, mention that content gets flagged for violating rules referring to nudity or sexual, harmful or dangerous content, hateful, violent or graphic content, harassment and cyberbullying, spam, misleading metadata, scams, threats, copyright, impersonation, child safety, or privacy issues.
Where, if anywhere, does “Happy Xmas (The War is Over)” fit in there? Possibly, but then quite mistakenly, in the violent or graphic content category of violations – but only if the primary motive is understood to have been shocking, sensational, or gratuitous.
“If posting graphic content in a news or documentary context, please be mindful to provide enough information to help people understand what’s going on in the video,” says YouTube.
This was the first year that this official YouTube video has been flagged and essentially restricted from viewers in this way, even though the video has been up since 2010.
Unless YouTube really thinks that the anti-war classic is gratuitously promoting graphic and violent content just for the fun of it – and if the mention of Christmas is not yet an official violation – we’re left to speculate that the giant may have taken umbrage with the lyrical message itself, especially the powerful “War is over if you want to.”
In John Lennon’s words, “When we stick posters around saying, ‘WAR IS OVER if you want it’, what we’re trying to promote is an awareness in people of how much power they have – and not to rely on the government or leaders or teachers so much that they’re all passive or automatons.”