Every day people watch hundreds of millions of hours of video on YouTube, with 300 hours of new video uploaded every minute (source: YouTube Statistics). Very few of these videos are captioned, which means there are huge volumes of information being shared by our society, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing are being excluded. An estimated four million adults in the United States age 18 and over report having a hearing-related disability. If a person is running for the highest elected office in the United States, I expect them to be knowledgeable of the need for closed captions and/or to care that so many people in the United States are being excluded from important information.
So, which of the 2016 presidential candidates are captioning their videos? Today I used YouTube Caption Auditor (YTCA) to find out. YTCA is a tool that I developed and recently released as an open source project on GitHub. It uses the YouTube Data API to collect data on any YouTube channel and generate a report that includes the following information for each channel:
- Number of videos
- Total duration of all videos
- Number of videos with captions (does not include YouTube’s machine-generated captions)
- Percent of videos that are captioned
- Mean number of views per video (to get a sense of how popular the videos are)
- Total duration of uncaptioned videos
I included all candidates who, according to The New York Times, are officially running for president as of Labor Day 2015, and who have easily discoverable YouTube channels (I couldn’t find current channels for Lincoln Chafee or Jim Gilmore). I found two channels for Donald Trump: The Donald Trump channel only has four videos but seems to be his official 2016 presidential channel, whereas Trump is the far more active channel with 172 videos, but covers all things Trump with very little campaign content. I included the first of these channels in the analysis, but ran a separate analysis on the second channel just in case it revealed anything noteworthy (spoiler alert: none of Trump’s videos on either channel are captioned).
Of all the presidential candidates in both parties, only four have captioned any of their videos:
- Jeb Bush has captioned a respectable 76.1% (70 of 92 videos).
- Hillary Clinton has captioned 43.5% (20 of 46 videos).
- Bernie Sanders has captioned 29.2% (14 of 48 videos).
- Ted Cruz has posted more videos to his YouTube channel than any other candidate other than Marco Rubio (Cruz has posted 295; Rubio has posted 607). Of Cruz’s 295 videos, two of them somehow managed to get captioned (Rubio hasn’t captioned any of his).
Altogether, all candidates have posted 2,080 videos, and captioned only 5.1% of them.
What about congress?
Today was a holiday and I had some free time on my hands, so I decided to also run YTCA analyses on YouTube channels for members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Senators have posted nearly 33,000 videos totaling 13.5 million seconds of content (3,750 hours). Only 1.8% of that content is captioned. The leading senators at captioning their content are:
- Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has captioned 36% (208 of 578 videos).
- Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) has captioned 30.7% (105 of 342 videos).
- Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has captioned 13.1% (17 of 130 videos).
That’s it. All others have captioned fewer than 10% of their videos, and the vast majority have captioned none.
The House of Representatives is even worse. They have posted 68,936 videos with over 20 million seconds of content (5,555 hours), and only 295 of those videos are captioned (0.4%). Out of 435 members, only 45 have captioned any of their videos. Most of these have only captioned one or two videos; there are only four members who have captioned over 10%:
- Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee) has captioned 57.1% (20 of 35 videos).
- Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey) has captioned 23.3% (14 of 60 videos).
- Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina) has captioned 13.3% (28 of 211 videos).
- Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) has captioned 10.8% (22 of 204 videos).
I can think of only four possible reasons why a person in office or campaigning for office would not caption their videos:
- They are unaware of the need for captions.
- They don’t know how to caption videos, and don’t know who to ask.
- They don’t care that a large group of U.S. citizens is being denied access to their communications.
- Captioning costs money and/or time, and they feel that this group offers too little return on their investment.
None of these excuses is acceptable for someone who holds high office in the United States.
There might actually be a fifth excuse: Google automatically captions all content that’s uploaded to YouTube, and our elected officials might consider that good enough. In fact, the quality of Google’s captions has been noticeably improving over the years, but it still is nowhere near accurate enough to be relied upon, especially when we’re talking about public policy. All it takes is one misplaced or omitted “not” to completely change the meaning of an important statement or speech. Also, it’s worth noting that the YouTube API has a Yes/No field that identifies whether a video is captioned. The value of this field is only “Yes” if the channel owner has explicitly uploaded or saved captions. A video that only has been computer-captioned still has “No” for this field, so Google concedes that their captions are not good enough to count as real captions.
What about the White House?
I also ran one final analysis, this one on the White House channel. Finally, this analysis yielded the sort of results I expect to find for all elected officials. The official White House YouTube channel includes over 6,000 videos, totaling over 5 million seconds of run time (approximately 1,398 hours). That’s a lot of video, and 97.2% of it is captioned. This proves that captioning video is feasible.
Links to the full reports are provided below. I encourage you to contact your senators and representatives and ask them why they aren’t captioning their videos. And if you’re supporting a presidential candidate who is not currently captioning their videos, educate them, and if they don’t change their ways, support somebody else.