So, at my school, I have a team of third grade students who are responsible for the morning announcements for our school. They are responsible for writing and recording all the news that’s fit to share in our elementary building. They use the Youtube account affiliated with my school email address. I set up a specific computer to keep my password saved if you use a specific login. Other than that, they largely do this themselves at this point. The teachers in the building either check the Youtube website, or subscribe to it in order to share the announcements with their classes. (We use live streaming to record the announcements, but rarely does anyone tune in live, because we are not super consistent when it comes to starting at the same time every day. Plus, teachers share the announcements when it works for them — first grade classes have different morning routines than the second or third grades, for instance.)
I’m very proud of them for this. So I thought some of them could handle an April Fool’s prank version of the announcements. I sought help from friends on Facebook and rewrote our morning announcements in Japanese. (I used to teach in Japan, so I have more contacts who speak Japanese and a better handle on it myself than other non-English languages.) Then, I wrote it out phonetically in the English alphabet. Students took it home and practiced in advance. We still had some pronunciation issues when it came time to record — students pronounced “kyou” as “key-yo” for example — but overall I thought we did quite well. In fact, let me share it here:
We did two different takes, and I spliced them together to make one video, thinking it would be more convenient to the other teachers. I had it up around 8:30am on April 1st, then sent an explanatory email around 8:40am in case anyone was truly confused.
Then, at 9:39am, I received an email notifying me that the video had been removed from Youtube for violating the community guidelines.
This was frustrating, firstly because I simply did not agree that the video violated Youtube’s community guidelines. I assume, even now, that someone flagged it in error. However, the email included this sentence: “After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the videos violate our Community Guidelines. ” Ugh! No reasonable human reviewed that content and genuinely determined it inappropriate. I expect Youtube runs algorithms to do some sort of initial sorting. I’m annoyed that the algorithm was so far off, yet reassured that the machines are not yet ready to take over.
A bigger issue than that would have been that my account would be “in bad standing,” which locks up some of Youtube’s features for channels. In this case, it would have lasted six months, and I would have had to find some way other than live streaming to do morning announcements. Finding a new way to do morning announcements would not have been the biggest challenge; the biggest challenge would have been re-training my news teams when it’s the last quarter of the school year and they have standardized testing coming up. They don’t need that extra stress!
Luckily, Youtube has an appeal process, which I made use of immediately. It took almost a whole day, but the video was ultimately reinstated and my account is back in good standing.
Am I happy that happened? No, but I am grateful for it. Social media, including Youtube, is, well, social. And not every social interaction, on or offline, goes the way I want it to every time. Sometimes that means I have to revise my expectations. Sometimes that means I have to reflect on what I say, what I do, how I say it, or how I do it, and make a change. Sometimes I have to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t want to just opt out at this point. I might be able to live the rest of my own life off of social media… but will my students? If I back away after I get an email that makes me feel sad, I may not be qualified to mentor my students in the digital era. I can not promise to make the online world completely 100% safe for them and their feelings anymore than I can promise that they’ll never fall off the monkey bars on the playground. But I can show them what to do and how to manage their reactions when they come up against an obstacle.
UPDATED TO ADD: I feel better about my experience with (likely automated) censorship when I read about the lady whose photo of a cake got her Instagram account suspended.