YouTuber Summoning Salt’s videos on the history of speedrunning are some of the most popular in the hobby’s space and beyond, and now one of them has fallen prey to the Google platform’s notoriously confusing and opaque moderation process. “This video may be inappropriate for some users,” reads a warning before his new hour-long documentary on the history of Mega Man 2 speedruns, drastically changing how it’s monetized and how it surfaces in YouTube’s algorithm. It’s the latest instance of a content creator battling a Kafkaesque system for weeks in an effort to get a clear answer on the platform’s rules.
“My Mega Man 2 video was just age-restricted,” Summoning Salt tweeted on September 21. “I can’t even imagine what in there could be triggering it. There’s no sexual content, gore, excessive swearing, etc.” An appeal was also immediately denied, the YouTuber said.
What was Google flagging exactly? It apparently honed in on a three-second clip in the middle of the video when a speedrunner says “fuck” several times after messing up during a world record attempt. According to YouTube’s own guidelines, however, that’s not necessarily enough to get a video age-restricted. The platform’s moderators, however, maintained that the three-second clip constituted a “sustained rant.”
“This is an absolute joke,” Summoning Salt wrote in a follow-up tweet thread. “This is your own example of what would qualify a video for limited ads. It cites a video that has “strong profanity mentioned in every sentence. I have a 78 minute video, with one brief clip in the middle with someone saying the f-bomb a few times.” He also tweeted a breakdown demonstrating that an AVGN video with a much higher concentration of profanity was not age-restricted, while his video, for some reason, was.
“The History of Mega Man 2 World Records,” which documents over a decade of speedrunning attempts, dramas, and controversies, showcased everything viewers come to Summoning Salt’s videos for: arcane gaming history broken down and shown in a fun and approachable chronological format. But every day the video remained age-restricted, it lost the revenue the YouTuber relies on to create content.
On September 22, however, YouTube reversed its decision. “After further review, we removed the age restriction from your video,“ YouTube’s support account tweeted. “Straight up, we made a mistake.” The damage was done, but at least that was the end of it, right?
Not quite. Summoning Salt went on to show graphs of the video’s “suggested views” compared to past ones that seemed to indicate the Mega Man 2 speedrunning history documentary still wasn’t being promoted as it normally would be by YouTube’s algorithm. And then a week later, something unfortunate but not altogether surprising happened. YouTube re-flagged the video.
Summoning Salt woke up on September 30 with a new email informing him the video may be inappropriate for younger viewers and so was being age restricted. He tried to appeal it again, and again the appeal was almost immediately declined. But this time for a new reason: sex and nudity. “I’ve received no clarification as to why I was ever told that it was flagged for sex and nudity,” Summoning Salt tweeted. “I guess it’s not too surprising that the same ‘careful reviewers’ that think a 3 second rant is sustained also think that Mega Man 2 somehow has sex/nudity.”
While there was no explanation for that decision, YouTube did seemingly make a final determination on the video’s age-restricted status last night on October 30. “Senior members of our policy team have confirmed the age restriction decision is final due to sustained use of heavy profanities,” an email from the platform read. For the Mega Man 2 speedrunning documentary, it’s basically too late anyway.
“I’m still trying to decide what’s next,” Summoning Salt wrote overnight. “I might try to clip the 3 seconds out of the existing video, but I really doubt that would fix its momentum given that it’s had practically no suggested video views for weeks now. Might reupload the whole thing—will let you all know.” He told Kotaku in an email that he estimates he’s lost between $5,000 and $6,000 of the revenue the video would have brought in had it never been flagged so far.
The winding, weeks-long saga is a particularly daming example of just how hard it can be for people to get a clear answer from YouTube when its moderation team, human or otherwise, ensnares them in an age-old debate over what constitutes profanity. It also seems to point to a lack of consistency within Google’s moderation teams themselves.
YouTube is a favorite among content creators for how well it’s monetized and able to compensate them compared to rivals like TikTok, but the speed and silence with which that can be sabotaged remains a big point of frustration. The platform didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. And, of course, anyone who actually wants to see Mega Man nude will have to look elsewhere.