YouTube under fire for removing community captions

YouTube logo red with closed captioningYouTube

YouTube has come under fire for its decision to remove community captions, as the date on which they’re supposed to be taken away looms ever closer.

Community captions, or Community Contributions, allows anyone on YouTube to contribute translated video titles, descriptions, closed captions and subtitles to a video, and contributions are then reviewed and published by creators.

On July 31, though, YouTube announced that Community Contributions would be removed from the platform for a number of reasons.

YouTube on phoneUnsplash: Christian Wiediger
YouTube explained that a low usage rate is the reasoning for removing community captions.

In their announcement post, the platform cited reports of spam and abuse from the feature, which resulted in minimal use, as a reason for removing the feature.

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It was revealed that the feature would be removed on September 28, 2020, after which contributions would no longer be able to be made, although already-published contributions would remain on their respective videos.

Obviously, this means that a large number of disadvantaged viewers are likely to miss out. Community captions have helped deaf or hearing-impaired viewers still enjoy YouTube videos where they can, and some people even say that these captions helped them better learn English as a second language.

This came to a head on September 7, when thousands came together on Twitter to get #DontRemoveYouTubeCCs trending, questioning the decision to remove a feature that improves accessibility for people with disabilities.

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Captions will still be available on videos, but they will have to be created by the channel itself, and not community members, while YouTube’s automatic captioning feature will also remain.

What this means for captions long-term remains to be seen. With correct captioning and translations being on the shoulders of the creators, or YouTube’s automated process, we might see even more viewers turned away knowing they won’t get accurate captions.

A major part of the issue boils down to the fact that the process was regularly abused and, with less than 0.001% of channels having published community captions, it might not make much of a difference in the long-term. That said, many are understandably upset at the loss of even that small percentage of community captions, and it will be interesting to see how YouTube react to the public backlash — if at all.

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