In August, 2016, I posted a longer version of this video to YouTube. It shows a daredevil dude scaling the surface of the Trump Tower using suction cups.
Yesterday, over four years later, with zero human contact, YouTube’s algorithm decided it was time for an intervention. The video was deleted with, at first, no specific explanation. Having never read YouTube’s content guidelines too closely until this I figured it was flagged for something to do with “self harm”, even though this dude knew what he was doing and countless other YouTube users and network news outlets had posted videos of this exact incident.
I appealed the decision, citing the numerous videos of this climber still up for grabs on YouTube, asking what made mine worse than all the others?
In return I got a sensitively automated email with the subject line “Need help? You’re not alone”. It reads:
“We’re reaching out because members of the YouTube Community, including fellow creators, viewers, or staff, are worried about your safety or well-being after coming across content you posted with references to or actual suicidal or self-harm behavior.
“It’s not uncommon to turn to suicidal thinking and self-harm as ways to cope with painful emotions. Talking to someone can help you process these emotions, as well as get support through a difficult time.”
The rest of the automated email contained phone numbers for crisis counseling hotlines and links to suicide prevention websites.
Evidently posting a video of a daredevil in action flagged me as suicidal, and YouTube cares, but only enough to reach out to me four years after I posted it.
What’s scary about that is that it doesn’t take much in terms of mixed signals for mental health or law enforcement authorities to institutionalize someone against their will if they so much as suspect they are in distress, or at some sort of risk of self harm. For all I know YouTube alerted the psych ward at Bellevue about this, and they’re coming to haul me off in a straightjacket.
I only became aware of how seriously law enforcement and mental health professionals take perceived self-harm risks when I unwittingly summoned the full force of the NYPD. I was showing off the crisis counseling telephone I was responsible for getting installed on the RFK/Triborough, and in so doing I opened and closed the cabinet door several times. I did not know that simply opening the door to that cabinet set off an alarm at the precinct. The repeated sounding of that alarm was enough to make the NYPD and bridge authority think someone was distressed enough to merit an intervention. That whole story is here.
If YouTube thinks this robo-care/robo-sympathy approach gives it any credibility I think that’s fucking insulting. To the contrary, I think this is something that could send somebody at the brink all the way over the edge.
Fortunately this doesn’t really matter. I have nothing at stake in that video, but if I did I don’t think there’d be anything I could do about it being automatically deleted.