YouTube still refuses to allow comments on Special Books By Special Kids channel

It's been almost four months since comments were banned on the channel, it's what's been described as a discriminatory move by YouTube.

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In March, Special Books by Special Kids (SBSK) creators Chris Ulmer and his partner Alyssa published a video lamenting YouTube’s decision to disable the comment section for their channel.

SBSK is a YouTube channel that promotes healthy conversation around disabilities. The couple describes their effort to create a channel aimed at normalizing “the diversity of the human condition under the pillars of honesty, respect, mindfulness, positivity, and collaboration.” SBSK celebrates people and all their differences.

In recent times, YouTube has been campaigning tirelessly to control and moderate content created for young audiences or featuring children. The company had to do this following a series of scandals involving videos for kids that had been edited to include the promotion of self-harm, and the discovery of predatory behavior in the comments of specific videos.

YouTube’s actions have several implications. The attempt to protect kids from predatory behavior resulted in a systematical ban of comments sections for entire channels. In some cases, such as for the Girls Couture Club channel, the move was legitimized by multiple instances of predatory behavior in the comments. In other cases, such as for SBSK, it seems to be totally unmotivated.

Chris Ulmer described his channel in Reddit’s comments section. “SBSK started while I was a teacher to children with mild to moderate disabilities,” he explained. “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.”

In a video uploaded in March, Chris and Alyssa explained why the comment section is so vital for their channel. “There is so much lost when you look at comments not being there,” says Alyssa. “There are videos of people who’ve passed away, and their parents read the comments as a way of keeping their kid alive. And now they’re gone,” added Chris.

According to a 2017 BBC profile of the channel and the people interviewed showed the great importance of comments. The BBC reported that a post about a kid that survived a brain injury and a stroke had more than 8,000 comments, underlining the positive impact that SBSK videos can have on the community.

Chris and Alyssa say that YouTube’s actions are “discriminatory,” as it seems that the tech giant is specifically targeting smaller channels. Chris said that he is well aware of the implications of the word “discriminatory,” and he means that 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,” he pointed out.

SBSK’s authors noted that many of the bigger kids channels, the ones with “corporate or advertisers behind them” were not affected by YouTube’s move. “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,” said Alyssa.

Petition to YouTube to reinstate comments on SBSK

Eventually, YouTube replied 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,” argued YouTube.

Chris and Alyssa explained in an email why they believe YouTube’s actions discriminate against small channels like theirs. “YouTube’s ‘abundance of caution’ is an inconsistent and discriminatory action,” they wrote. “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 point out that SBSK has no history of predatory comments, and no previous strikes, and questions why channels like Toddlers and Tiaras appear to have their comments sections active.

“Our channel is one of the largest disability advocacy communities in the world,” the email reads. “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.”

A petition to enable SBSK’s comment section on gained 300,000 signatures in 48 hours. The petition is currently counting over 471,000 signatures and growing.

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