Meanings Perpetually Paused

Youtube’s removal of community captions will alienate many from video content.


Natalie Greene, Staff Writer

If you’re like the vast majority of teens these days, you’ve probably stumbled onto Youtube and spent hours tumbling down rabbit holes of interesting content. It’s a fun pastime, and one that many people enjoy. However, back in September, YouTube announced that it would be discontinuing community captions, effectively alienating entire communities from much of the content on their site, claiming that these captions were “rarely used and had problems with spam/abuse.”

Community captions were a feature on YouTube that allowed users besides the content creator to make subtitles for videos, send them to the channel and have them approved and displayed on the video. Because of YouTube’s removal of this accessibility feature, many, many videos will go uncaptioned. This makes it impossible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, have audio-processing issues, and/or watch videos made in foreign languages, to enjoy them.

Many YouTubers wouldn’t think to hire people to do their captions, while others may not have the financial resources to do so.

But don’t worry– YouTube tells us in their removal announcement, “You can still use manual and automatic captions, as well as third party tools and services.” Unfortunately, there are several issues with these solutions. Many YouTubers wouldn’t think to hire people to do their captions, while others may not have the financial resources to do so. And content creators who do provide captions often only have them in one language. And if you’ve ever looked at auto-generated captions, you know that they tend to be really awful. Not only do they not work for music, only displaying the ever so helpful caption of “[music],” but they only really make sense if the person speaking in the video enunciates their words. And heaven forbid that you aren’t fluent in the video’s language, or else the auto-translate feature on top of the auto-generated captions is just word garbage.

I love listening to Japanese music, but I don’t know the language well enough to understand the lyrics. Community captions eliminate this issue because some kind soul will have put in time and effort to translate the video. But the removal of captions isolates viewers from the meanings behind such music. As English speakers, we have privilege: so much content caters to us. But what about those who don’t speak English? Or those who have hearing issues? These groups need captions to fully immerse themselves in Youtube’s content. 

So please, if you can, sign petitions, get in contact with YouTube, and tell them how harmful and isolating their decision really is. Let them know that community captions are necessary and used every day by countless people. Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves an opportunity to fall down a rabbit hole of videos, just like you and me.