"Summoning Salt" left with little understanding on where auto-moderation line is drawn.

youtube age-restriction quagmire exposed by 78-minute mega man documentary [updated]

Aurich Lawson / Capcom

A YouTube creator has gone on the offensive after facing an increasingly common problem on the platform: moderation and enforcement that leaves creators confused by the logic and short on their videos’ revenue potential.

Further Reading

The best game-exploiting speedruns of Summer Games Done Quick 2022The trouble centers on a longtime YouTube video host whose content is popular among the retro-gaming devotees at Ars Technica’s staff. The creator, who goes by the online handle “Summoning Salt,” chronicles the history of various classic games’ speedrunning world records. His hour-plus analyses demonstrate how different players approach older games and exploit various bugs. The games in question are typically cartoony 2D fare instead of violent or M-rated titles.

Summoning Salt asks why his YouTube video was age-restricted.

On Friday, Summoning Salt took to social media to claim that his latest 78-minute documentary about 1989’s Mega Man 2, which went live in mid-September, has been “age-restricted” by YouTube’s moderation system. Bizarrely, the video had been age-restricted roughly one week ago, only for YouTube to relent to the creator’s appeal and claim that the restriction had been placed in error.

Thus, Summoning Salt was surprised to learn on Friday that the video had been re-age-restricted—which he claims severely limits a creator’s ability to monetize content on YouTube. An age restriction flag works against content creators in two ways: it limits the advertisement pool that might run in pre-roll and mid-view breaks, and it essentially slams the door on YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which might otherwise tease Summoning Salt’s content to new viewers.

Remember, this is Mega Man 2 we’re talking about

Summoning Salt’s (age-restricted) analysis of Mega Man 2 world records.

YouTube’s initial notice did not clarify what moderation flag Summoning Salt’s latest video—a video that documents the 18-year history of people playing and exploiting the NES game Mega Man 2, embedded above—had triggered. His appeal eventually teased an answer from YouTube’s moderation team: “explicit language in certain parts.” As Summoning Salt explained, the video includes a three-second outburst of six F-words, taken directly from a Twitch streamer’s microphone during a passionate gameplay moment.

Summoning Salt, a speedrunning-fluent creator, took his analysis tools to the microsecond level and looked for other unrestricted YouTube content in the gaming category to see whether his video’s curses-per-capita percentage (0.16 percent) had been exceeded. He immediately found an unrestricted example from another popular retro-minded channel, Angry Video Game Nerd, which had nearly double the swears in a video one-twelfth as dense in the script. (It’s unclear how many of AVGN’s videos, famously full of curse words, are flagged with age restrictions.)

Ultimately, Summoning Salt points to YouTube’s unclear recommendations to content creators for content like curse words. According to YouTube’s own rules, the line between “moderate profanity” (allowed in YouTube’s unrestricted videos) and “strong profanity” comes down to not only specific word choice but also frequency, and YouTube merely suggests that the line is crossed when reaching a threshold of “used in every sentence,” or having certain swear words appear in prominent moments like the first 30 seconds of a video or as text in a thumbnail.

Summoning Salt noted that the moderation team initially responded with a “full review” in roughly 40 minutes, less than the length of the whole video. Such a swift review process implied that an auto-moderation system used voice analysis to chronicle the number of swear words, and Summoning Salt told Ars via email that YouTube has tools in place to auto-mute what it detects as offending content—but that YouTube doesn’t automatically apply them in the case of age-restriction disputes, and using built-in auto-mute tools doesn’t necessarily undo the damage done by any moderators’ age-gating. This leaves creators out of the revenue circuit once YouTube raises such a flag. He also told Ars that his videos have only been restricted in the past by YouTube due to copyright flags over included music, which he has zero issue with.

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