There seems to be a worrying and dangerous trend where large brands are censoring potential profanity and swear words in auto-captions. They claim that it is to avoid mistakes, but still, this is not a good idea.
This is following the recent news that YouTube has decided to censor potential profanity in their auto-captions just in case they pop up as mistakes. But this goes against the whole concept of having captions/subtitles in the first.
Even though you can adjust the settings, it sets a very dangerous precedent for all deaf people as it’s a default setting…and who is going to edit that?
You can watch the video below…:
…listen to the podcast…:
…or read the transcript below.
So here’s the thing: those who know me will know that I love captions. I depend on captions. I need captions and I love it when people put effort into it and making it good. None of the auto-caption nonsense that I see a lot everywhere that people think “it’s enough”…It’s not enough. It will never be enough.
You have to manually create your captions. And that’s why I always believe that video should always have captioning available, full stop.
But one of the thing that I always say when I speak at events or conferences and I talk about captions and how to make it good, one of the point is you should always translate profanity.
Yes. If there are bad words or swear words and someone is saying it out loud, you should always translate it and write it out in full in the captions.
The current trend of censoring profanity
But there seems to be a trend where for some reason software companies and other companies, they need to censor it and they feel like, “oh, it’s too much” and they have to censor it in case it offends people.
And it seems like a few companies like YouTube, for example, they have taken the action and they have decided to censor any profanity in their auto-captions, which is just a lot of [bleep].
I have seen some rumours on social media, people are saying that YouTube are thinking or proposing censoring certain words in their auto-caption and at first I didn’t believe it. Other people didn’t believe it. We didn’t think it would happen until they did it.
There are now evidence out there. People have shared screenshots of examples where YouTube are censoring profanity and it look terrible. It’s just not the right way forward.
And of course, the majority of people who are not happy are deaf people and hard of hearing people in general.
It just doesn’t make sense. And I’m going to go in detail on why it’s such a bad idea.
What is YouTube up to with censorship?
So the general idea by YouTube is that in the auto-caption there may be certain words that crop up that should not be shown.
And they have decided that just in case it does show up, they’re going to censor it and they put it in the open bracket, two underscore and close bracket. And that’s what they’re going to show in auto-caption when people are either swearing or it sound like swearing.
But that’s the problem. If it doesn’t sound like swearing and it comes up censored, but then people who are relying on captions want to know what that person is saying, but it’s censored, so you can’t read that word…and it’s censored.
So what about those situation?
Well, it doesn’t matter because you’re not going to be able to look unless you are exceptional at lipreading or you can hear what a person are saying or you just hope that you manage to grasp the conversation, then you screwed.
The thing is, even if you can’t lipread them, it doesn’t matter. If they’re facing the other way, you can’t lipread them. And if they have, I don’t know, a big beard, you can’t read that either. So, you know, if I was watching Santa Claus, it ain’t going to happen. I’m not going to lipread him.
It’s not just on YouTube though…
This is not just YouTube. And I’ve noticed that other companies are doing that. So, for example, the Zoom live captioning where it is integrated with Rev.
Well, Rev is also doing the same thing. And FYI, for Patreon supporter, I’m going to go into detail about how I helped to beta test their live caption integration with them.
But long story short, the conversation that we have had to censor any words in their live-captioning, when it appears on Zoom and I told them, “no, that’s not going to work because it’s not accurate”.
But you know what? Sometimes they feel like they know better than people who need it, which is…You can imagine how I feel about that.
It’s quite frustrating to see that kind of thing when people think that they know better than people who require it. So in this case, hearing people think they know better about captions than people like us who needs and depend on it.
And I have never really seen anyone complaining that this shouldn’t be appearing or people complain that we should be removing it or censoring; I’ve never heard of that. If anything, there should be other ways where we can make it better.
Obviously, it’s an ongoing thing for YouTube and any kind of artificial intelligence tools where you’re trying to do the live caption. It’s an ongoing process to improve the quality. I get that. I’m not expecting it to be perfect.
But it is just a slap in the face. It’s a slap in the face for people who have been crying out for accessibility to being able to watch the video, because the majority of videos on YouTube are auto-caption and they’re terrible enough at the end.
And then YouTube had also decided to remove the community-contributed captions as well, because they have cited “low usage” and they claim that not enough people are using it, which is also a slap in the face because it means that there are people using it.
However, the long story short of that, and it’s a big story, is that they haven’t really been promoting it. It’s hidden away. People are not really aware of. So they feel like, “oh, nobody knows, let’s remove it”.
So that’s a slap in the face on one side. But to do this as well, the reasons why it’s a big deal, and it sets a dangerous precedent in terms of accessibility/videos accessibility and caption, is because it’s not accurate. It’s not true reflection of what that person is saying.
If you decide to censor word because the person is saying a swear word. Well, then how are we going to be able to experience the same experience when people are hearing it because they can hear it.
So if they can hear that word, it should be displayed. And I know the auto-caption, but this is also a message to anyone who is manually creating the captions and they have edit it. They have uploaded it.
However way you do it, if there are profanity in the words, if people are actually saying swear words, bad words, then you have to write in full.
I don’t give a crap about anyone who just complain “oh, it feels uncomfortable writing out or displaying it”. I don’t care.
And it’s a bit condescending to protect us from a swear word just in case it offends us. No, no, don’t do that. No, it’s very condescending. We want to know what is said and if we don’t want to be offended, then we shouldn’t just watch it. Just don’t watch YouTube.
The whole point that it’s supposed to be a true reflection of what the person is saying orally. That is what it’s about.
That is what caption is for. It’s not a place for you to have a lot of fun with it or customise it to how you like it. And I’ve even seen a situation where people put in a caption and then in bracket what that person is thinking, and that is absolutely not the right way of doing it.
It has to be a true reflection of what that person is saying on the video.
So it’s very annoying that YouTube it and it’s very annoying that the likes of Rev is also doing as well and they claim that they know better. And I disagree with them because they should be listening to people who depend on it.
Maybe they have listened to people, but they decided to go the other way because they feel like it’s better. I really want to question those decision making and how many people have they talked to and listened to and what kind of compromises have they come up with, and that is the best way forward.
You have to listen to the people who require, not just go with your gut feeling like, for example, “oh, it’s just not nice to write it out” or or “it might be accidental and things should be coming up clearly, and we don’t want word to come up that is accidentally displayed”, well there are things that you could do to make it better.
As well as the ongoing thing that the likes of YouTube are doing to improve the quality of the auto-caption, (which, by the way, I don’t think it will ever be 100 percent perfect, but let’s go with it).
The thing that you can do is that YouTube should be encouraging people to, first of all, manually editing the caption.
Yes they’ve mentioned it in their document, in their support section, but it’s so hidden you can’t really see it (but you can see it below).
But people will not be able to find it and people are not going to go out of their way to look for it either. YouTube should be encouraging people and pushing people more to edit caption to make it better for everyone.
Everyone will benefit from it. Even YouTube and Google will benefit from the those captions because it’s a proper experience, a proper engagement for the video. People will engage with that.
And that is good for YouTube because then more people will stay on the videos, and that’s good for the creator because more people will stay on their videos too.
So that’s what people should be doing, that’s what YouTube should be doing, is that they should be encouraging people to manually edit the video captions.
As well as that there are the quality issue that’s a problem. If you can, have microphones available, have headphones on as well. But it’s about the quality of the caption.
Because let’s just say for some reason you’re not going to edit your auto-caption or people either are not aware of it (hence why you should be nudging them), then we should encourage people to, the best way they can, have a microphone available.
Even those hands-free kit that you get with your mobile phone, even they will do. It’s not the best, but it’s a good start.
But just using the microphone on your laptop, that’s going to kind of give you a very low quality audio, which means it will affect the auto-caption, too.
As well that, there are obvious things like speak as clearly as you can, don’t have any background noise. But the thing is, the general rule I have for anyone is that you should never, ever depend on auto-caption to do all the work. It will do part of a work where you can then edit those auto-caption and then you have accurate captions.
You should never, ever depend on it and just leave it, and that’s it. That’s the worst way to go about it. So I encourage you to do something about it because you will get the benefit out of it.
When people seeing that there are captions then you will get more engagement, better SEO, you would have people really appreciate that you put in the effort to caption the video.
What are the benefits of captions/subtitles?
Learn how captions/subtitles can benefit you and your video
But on top of that, I really believe that YouTube should be listening to the right people when it comes to accessibility, because apparently in their ‘Creator Insider’ video where they talk about their latest updates to YouTube creators, they have said that they have done it to improve accessibility by censoring those words in auto-caption.
How the [bleep] can that improve accessibility in the captions? I don’t get that at all. Listen to the right people. And I can tell that there had been a lot of disappointment from many, many people.
But I want to see from the other side of it; are people appreciating that. Do you people think it’s a good idea? I want to know if you are the person who think it’s a good idea. I want to know because I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks it’s a good idea.
And if you do, I hope this video will explain to you why it’s a bad idea to censor profanity if you can hear it. That should never be the case. If a person can hear it, then the person who reads it should also access the same content; full stop. And that’s it.
I hope that makes sense. Don’t forget as well if you want to support the channel, my Patreon page is in the description, the link is right here. Really appreciate your support. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. It would be awesome if you could do that.
But in the meantime, I will speak to you again soon.
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
- ‘CODA’ movie review: my thoughts on the latest deaf movie to be released - October 13, 2021
- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
Thank you for drawing attention to this issue. It’s been driving me crazy for months! I’m hard of hearing, not a baby!
Ahmed Khalifa says
Exactly. It’s very belittling.
It’s good that they provide a way to turn it off, but they really [___]ed up the implementation. Why the [___] is it a setting for the *uploader* to choose? The captions are there for the viewer’s benefit; the uploader doesn’t need them. This isn’t a TV at a bar, that can only show the same thing to everyone who watches. YouTube is *already* able to support user-selectable captions.
Ahmed Khalifa says
Very few people are aware that you can turn it off. And it’s not like YouTube are making it easy for people to be aware of that either.
Jeff Winn says
I was just watching the James Bond movie Skyfall. I bought the digital version of the movie so it should be unedited. I am not deaf or hard of hearing but I enjoy watching movies with the captioning on. I started doing it because it helped me better understand characters with different accents but it also helps to understand the dialogue when there is a lot of background noise. I think even those of us who don’t have hearing issues can appreciate and benefit from having accurate captioning. Today I realized that when Judi Dench’s character M says “I f**cked this up, didn’t I” to Bond while they are waiting for Silva at Skyfall, that entire line is missing from the Closed Captioning. It is the first line in a new conversation so it isn’t as though it could get lost in multiple characters talking – it has clearly been removed which I strongly disagree with. I just thought you might find it interesting to have this pointed out since Skyfall is such a well-liked movie within a massive film franchise. If I notice other examples in popular or mainstream films, would you be interested in being notified? I don’t want to bore you with information you don’t find useful. I enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Ahmed Khalifa says
This is a great insight on how subtitles are useful for so many people, and not just for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Thanks for sharing your own thoughts about this, and of course, if you do find more, feel free to share them. It’s important that they are highlighted and for more people to be aware of this…even from those who are not originally a supporter or user of captions, or if they are hearing.
I’m not deaf or hard of hearing but i do have APD (auditory processing disorder) which makes it very difficult to understand what people are saying, hence why i have captions. although they aren’t perfect especially when auto generated, they are still very helpful and lets me be able to understand whats going on instead of having to pause every so often to piece together sentences and what not. Recently i was watching a video and there was a censored word in the sentence and background noise made it so no matter how much i tried i couldn’t understand the censored word, and depending on which swear word it was drastically changed what was being said i had to go to a family member and ask them what this person said. unable to be independent over a choice made by people that aren’t affected by it. ridiculous.
Ahmed Khalifa says
Your scenario just shows that 1) captions can benefit so many people, and 2) yet another person thinks censoring words is a bad idea.