Thursday, December 11, 2014

Navigating YouTube Safe Search

Over the past week a few of you have contacted the IT department about YouTube's Safety Mode. This tool is automatically enabled for all of our Google accounts and helps ensure that students are accessing appropriate content on YouTube. It works by analyzing the metadata that is part of an uploaded video and compares it with a banned list of words. Metadata can include the video's title and description, category, tags, and even an automatic transcription of any narration or spoken word. The service is completely automatic and relies on sophisticated computer algorithms that analyze content as it is uploaded at posted to YouTube. Kind of amazing, huh?

Like all filtering technology, Safety Mode should never be thought of as a replacement for a teacher (or parent at home) monitoring the classroom by walking around the room and utilizing engaging lesson plans. Additionally, sometimes perfectly good content gets blocked by the Safety Mode settings. If you are using a Mac or Windows device, you can work around this problem by temporarily disabling Safety Mode. However, this cannot be done on a Chromebook since YouTube Safety Mode is part of a Safe Search protocol we enforce through our Google Apps domain.

All of the messages and tickets we have received regarding Safety Mode have been related to teacher-created content being deemed "unsafe." YouTube's exact Safety Mode algorithms are a bit unintuitive and seem to be undergoing constant tweaking, but this discussion forum which includes YouTube staff members and power-user experts was quite handy for understanding how the process works. If you are having challenges with your content being blocked by Safety Mode here are some things to consider.
  1. Titles, Descriptions, and Tags - Make sure your video's title, descriptions, or tags are not using any word that might seem inappropriate when taken out of context. For instance, Nic Russo has a video with the title "Scavenger Hunt Instructions" that is blocked by Safety Mode. The video is perfectly fine, but the word "hunt" may be tripping up the filters. Realize, that the title, description, and tags are also how advertising and related videos are posted around your content, so taking the time to enter accurate information is very valuable.
  2. Education Category - When posting a video always make sure your chosen category is "Education." Some programs, like QuickTime will put your video in the "How To" category and you will quickly find your video surrounded by lessons for styling hair.
  3. Songs & Narration - YouTube automatically transcribes your video for closed-captioning purposes. Make sure that any narrations are as clearly enunciated as possible. If there is music playing in the background turn it off, especially if it has any vocals. Hope Kloczko has a perfectly appropriate video on her website that is blocked by Safety Mode and I am pretty sure it has something to do with the Taylor Swift song, Shake It Off, that you can hear in the background.
  4. Upload to Drive - When all else fails and YouTube just keeps blocking your video, try uploading content to Google Drive and adjust the Share settings to Anyone with Link so that students and parents can view the content. It might not be be as pretty as YouTube, but it works and you now have unlimited storage in Google Drive.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, Safety Mode seems to be work in progress. Many of us have complained to YouTube about the lack of precision utilized by the algorithms. If you use Twitter or Google+ feel free to let them know as well by tagging YouTube (@youtube or +youtube) in your post. Hopefully, the service will become so precise that all of these problems will disappear. In the meantime give these strategies a whirl and let us know if you discover any of your own tricks with posting content to YouTube.


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