YouTube's AI Flagged Robot Battles as Animal Cruelty and Removed Them

On Monday, numerous video creators were shocked when YouTube removed their videos for animal cruelty. The problem? None of the videos showed animals at all — rather, they were of robots fighting.

A popular hobby for the more engineerically inclined is building robots to fight each other, much like one would see on the TV shows Battlebots or Robot Wars. The devices — some debate whether or not they're true robots, as they're remotely controlled by humans — are outfitted with different weapons and strategies. They're then pitted against each other, and forced to fight until one of the robots can no longer move.

Not only are no animals involved, humans are barred from entering the arena when a fight is in progress. But it appears the videos hit a little too close to home for YouTube's algorithms, as on August 19, numerous creators were notified their videos had been taken down. The automated emails sent out referenced animal cruelty, according to a Facebook post by video creator Jamison Go.

Today is a sad day. Robot builders across the world cried out in agony as YouTube's algorithm falsely identified...

Posted by Jamison Go on Monday, August 19, 2019

"Content that displays the deliberate infliction of animal suffering or the forcing of animals to fight is not allowed on YouTube. Examples include, but are not limited to, dog fighting and cock fighting," the email said.

Of course, there is no actual ban on robot fighting videos on the platform, and a YouTube representative told Ars Technica that the removals were an accident.

"With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call," said the spokesperson. "When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals, and we will re-review the content."

In this photo from the BattleBots Challege at the Amazon Re:MARS conference in Los Vegas on June 6, Chomp, on the right, fights with Skorpios. Videos of fights such as these were removed by YouTube on Monday for showing animal cruelty. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty

Ars Technica pointed out that while YouTube didn't specifically say the offending videos were originally flagged by algorithm, it's hard to imagine a human watching any of these videos and thinking the robots were actually animals.

While some of the removed videos starred robots with names that referred to animals — like "catKong" — one maker, Henry Aird, told Ars Technica that some of the videos removed from his channel featured no descriptions, tags or even English-language titles.

"The strange thing is my videos were named '0037' and '0050,'" Aird told the website. "I didn't change the video names or even tag them — they were just hastily uploaded to my page and sent to someone else to sort out, essentially. And they still got flagged for animal cruelty, so nothing makes any sense to me."

The story was originally broken by another YouTuber, Maker's Muse, who posted a brief video about the removed videos. As news started to spread, YouTube restored the majority of the videos by Tuesday, August 20.