YouTube criticised after blocking young people from seeing powerful HIV film: ‘It re-enables stigma’

YouTube censors World AIDS Day film starring Nathaniel Hall

YouTube has been criticised for age-restricting an educational World AIDS Day film, “re-enabling the very stigma [it] is seeking to combat”.

The film, entitled 27000@25: When We Were Boys, tells the story of London’s 1996 Pride celebrations, where 27,000 red balloons were released to represent the people living with HIV in England at the time. 

It also stars It’s A Sin’s Nathaniel Hall, who has previously opened up about his experience acquiring HIV at the age of 16, and underlines the U=U message, which is that that if HIV is undetectable, it is untransmittable

“I take just one tablet, once a day, it has no side-effects, and I go to the clinic twice a year and that’s it, it’s done,” Hall says in the film.

“But we really shouldn’t underplay the psychological impact of the diagnosis, that’s a hang-up from that stigma that has come from the 1980s and 90s.”

Following its release, on World AIDS Day (1 December), the film was age-restricted by YouTube despite containing no content against its community guidelines.


Director Rob Falconer said he was not offered an explanation as to why it was censored. 

He told PinkNews: “We don’t know, it might have been the algorithm or a human being… it was applied with absolutely no warning in the middle of World AIDS Day, just as it was beginning to move around the world into the US time zones.

“I don’t think for a moment it was any way intentional… but they have failed to take into account the catastrophic consequences of doing something like that and the message it sends out to HIV-positive people around the world.

“It simply re-enabled the very stigma that the video is seeking to combat.

“We can’t recover that massive day of exposure it could have had, that’s the key issue here.”

The video, which has been translated into seven different languages, has now had its age restriction lifted by YouTube.

Falconer underlined that the video – which features music from Erasure and Jimmy Somerville – has still had a positive reaction, with over 11,000 views on YouTube.

He said: “It’s extraordinary. It’s overwhelming. The emotional side is clearly very special to people.

“[The aim is] to make people remember, to connect with the past in much the same way that programmes like It’s A Sin have done. We’re all overwhelmed with COVID and not remembering this huge, huge disease and the effect it had on people’s lives and how they were treated back then.

This is very present still, it’s not an LGBTQI+ minority issue, and never really was. Half of the people in this country who are HIV-positive are in fact heterosexual.

“These two people in this video proves the point that young people get HIV too, young people are having sex, whether people like to admit that or not. They need information, they need to make informed choices about their own sexual health, and that of their partners.

“How are they to do that if you refuse to allow them to watch and absorb that information?”

A spokeswoman for YouTube told PinkNews: “The flagged video was initially age-restricted but upon review this restriction was removed.

“We work quickly to review all flagged content, but with millions of hours of video uploaded on YouTube every day, on occasion we make the wrong call.”