NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — Silenced by YouTube?
Is the social media giant's policy to protect kids actually hurting a group founded right here on the First Coast?
A Neptune Beach non-profit is demanding answers after it says it was silenced.
Special Books for Special Kids (SBSK) explained YouTube removed their comment section which helps them reach folks with disabilities.
Raw emotion posted online – the first resort for Chris Ulmer and Alyssa Porter who run the non-profit Special Books for Special Kids out of their Neptune Beach home.
Ulmer, the face of the group’s YouTube channel, advocates for those with differences – highlighting their abilities.
“Meeting people with different disabilities and giving them a platform to share their stories and we grew,” Ulmer said.
He is a former special education teacher who after years in the classroom turned to a camera and light kit. The group has made hundreds of videos like one posted in 2017 where Ulmer interviews a man named Mike who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle crash.
"I hope they look me in the eye like you’re doing,” Mike said in the video.
But just last week YouTube told Ulmer the comments section would be disabled – a move the social media giant hopes will make it safer for younger creators.
“We do believe that YouTube is discriminating against us, we believe they’re extremely discriminatory in their actions,” Ulmer said.
Ulmer added he monitors all the comments and never has there been inappropriate ones like YouTube has asserted, he explained. Now SBSK is unable to get the feedback critical to their mission.
“YouTube has hidden these people and displayed to the world that these people should not be communicated with and it has set our nonprofit and the disability community back decades,” Ulmer said.
Ulmer understands YouTube’s algorithm may be well-intended to protect children from potential predators or ridicule, but he added the dialogue allowed by public comments is vital to his organization’s outreach. Hoping for an appeal – right now Ulmer and Porter are enlisting the help of a Change.org petition and their friends online.
“We hope by modeling the interactions that go into our comments section every single day, they’ll see our comments section for dialogue and acceptance,” Ulmer said.
First Coast News has reached out directly to YouTube, but the company has yet to reply to our questions. Ulmer said he has only spoken with "low level" employees representing YouTube.
See the petition SBSK hopes will change the minds of YouTube executives.