A recent uproar has occurred in the hearing loss community due to YouTube’s decision to eliminate crowd-sourced captions. There have been many complaints about this decision, with people saying that it’s discriminatory and obvious corporate greed during Deaf Awareness Month.
What are crowd-sourced captions?
YouTube is a massive service with billions of users, and some of these users take it upon themselves to transcribe the video into subtitles for viewers with hearing loss. Even most medium-sized channels would have subtitles for their videos up within an hour of airing, provided by dedicated and kind fans.
YouTube eventually took issue with this system however. While it wasn’t common, some people would intentionally subtitle things incorrectly as a joke. While the YouTube video might be saying “my goal isn’t to turn you into a wrestling fan,” the crowd-sourced subtitles might be reading “subscribe to TJ Henry Yoshi’s YouTube channel!”, or even something profane or offensive.
What’s the problem?
It wasn’t a perfect system, but a lot of people with hearing loss used these subtitles to watch their favourite YouTubers, ignoring the obvious poor subtitling if it ever arose.
But YouTube didn’t like that the system was open to any kind of abuse or manipulation, and simply took the option away, prompting a petition that has mustered over half a million signatures.
This might not sound like the end of the world, especially if you know about YouTube’s automated caption function. This service listens to the video and uses AI to transcribe what’s being said into subtitles.
There are a couple problems with this arrangement. Firstly, if you’ve ever used a virtual assistant like Siri or Cortana, you might know that, while they’re impressive, they might miss a word or two when you’re speaking to them.
This is just as possible when YouTube videos create automated captions. Someone saying the word “sink” might be subtitled into the word “think.”
This might not sound too bad, but if someone with hearing loss is watching a video and gets tripped up by an error like this, the whole pacing of the video will be thrown off, and might be cause for a rewind. Even worse, they may just be misinformed of what the video is saying at all.
The second problem is quite a bit bigger. YouTube’s solution to their potentially spotty AI subtitles is a paid subtitle service. YouTube has encouraged people to subscribe to services like Amara, which professionally subtitles videos.
This is obviously discriminatory behavior, asking those with a disability or condition to pay an extra fee to enjoy a service that others get for free. While there hasn’t been any progress in this situation yet, it’s possible that this outcry might spur YouTube into fixing their mistake.