Porn or Art Video? How YouTube Decides

Apr 9, 2013 12:30 PM PST

CYBERSPACE — Despite what users may believe, it’s not some sophisticated Google algorithm that decides if questionable YouTube videos are porn and get shut down.

According to Gizmodo, it’s simply human intervention that decides if a video containing sex and nudity is NSFW and gets yanked.

Pointing to a recent Robin Thicke music video that contained exposed breasts that was pulled only after a million views but then resurfaced when VEVO posted it only to have it then shut down in only 30 minutes, the article questioned YouTube’s censorship policies.

“According to YouTube's guidelines regarding nudity and sex, any video that's ‘intended to be sexually provocative’ is probably going to be taken down. That's not to say that videos being uploaded to YouTube are being screened ahead of time. In fact, questionable videos are only taken down when the community has flagged it as inappropriate or found it to be in violation of the guidelines. That flagged video is then reviewed by actual humans in different YouTube offices in different countries around the clock,” Gizmodo said.

Like the question of obscenity — people know it when they see it —  the article maintained that it all depends on the monitor's view, or in this case YouTube's definition of questionable content.

One of three things happens when the censors get wind of a suggestive video: 1) nothing happens; 2) if the scenes are deemed artistic then an age gate is put in place; or 3) if it crosses the line, it gets taken down.

But what’s troubling is that YouTube’s not forthcoming with the actual rules. By playing it close to the vest, YouTube cleverly doesn’t give creators the opportunity to get around its guidelines.

The article also points out that many of YouTube’s “porn or art” decisions are very subjective, citing videos that are still running including Sigur Rós' "Fjögur píanó," that shows naked female breasts and actor Shia Lebouf’s penis.

And a recent Rammstein music video that had plenty of nudity made the cut — until it apparently was noticed (in the article?) and was then taken down.

So it seems like the door’s open for YouTube posters willing to play the cat and mouse game, chancing that their “porn,” or “art” videos will grab mega-views before they’re flagged or snagged by the YouTube cops.

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