Inside Social Media: when accessibility compliance becomes a quality assurance and customer service fail
by James Woods, Senior Content Manager, Innovate By Day
When our captions guru pointed out an error on a major comedy show’s Facebook post, nothing happened. For more than 2 weeks. See why this is ableist and problematic.
At Innovate By Day, most of us have at least one aspect of our work that we’re absolutely fanatic about. One of mine is captioning videos. As a lifelong musician with tinnitus and hearing loss, closed captions are a lifeline for me when I watch TV, movies, and online video. So when Doug Benn joined our team in 2015 and we started producing a lot more social media videos in-house for our clients, I got really good at making SubRip (SRT) caption files.
“What’s a SubRip (SRT) caption file?” I hear you ask. An SRT file is a text file that we create to provide captioning on online videos -- if you turn on closed captions on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, the text you’re seeing is pulled from an SRT file. Each line of the SRT file includes the text that should be displayed in the caption, and time codes for when to start and stop displaying the caption.
I’ve trained a lot of people in the art of captioning videos (especially comedy videos where timing is actually vital to the success of the content; nothing bugs me more than watching a comedy video where the caption displays the punchline of a joke before the comedian has actually said it!) Now, I can hear the comic’s voice and cadence and I can make out probably 75% of what they’re saying with the TV at a pretty normal volume -- but captions are huge help when they’re accurate and the timing is good. For this reason, I loathe autogenerated captions. The timing is usually terrible, and the words are often just wrong. Just don’t.
My hot take: If you’re not checking the quality of your captions, you’re doing a disservice to anyone who relies on captions to fully understand and appreciate what they’re watching.
You’re undermining your brand’s credibility. It signals that you do not care enough about a significant portion of your audience -- Statistics Canada estimates that 4.6 million Canadian adults (19% of the population) have at least mild hearing loss in the speech-frequency range.
Comedy Central and Inside Amy Schumer
This brings me to March 10, 2022. I popped into Facebook at lunch and there on my feed was a freshly-uploaded video from the sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer.
VIDEO: It ain't easy being a 1970's secretary.
In this sketch, Amy plays a secretary in a 1970s office: think Mad Men, but without all those classic fashions. And the first caption I see, as Amy sits down at her desk, is:
As she sits down at her desk and approaches the typewriter, I read:
10 seconds into this video, I know the captions don’t match the audio. They’ve been written for a sketch about a tennis match. I’d know even if the audio was on mute.
VIDEO: Amy is incredible at tennis.
So I commented:
Nearly a week later, Facebook notified me that because my comments were so popular, I was now a Top Fan of Inside Amy Schumer. I went back to see if the correct SRT file had been uploaded yet. It had not. I commented:
Social media management is a nuanced, layered job
As a social media professional with 10 years of running, planning, and consulting on social for the film and television industries in Canada, I get that social media managers are burned out. If they’re managing multiple accounts for shows that aren’t currently producing new content, they’re probably not posting often. (A quick review of the Inside Amy Schumer Facebook page shows that videos are rolling out about once a week. Odds are good that the content is firing without regular oversight of the page and the comments. We call this a plug-and-play strategy: it’s about keeping the lights on in a streamlined manner. I suspect the account manager is an employee of Comedy Central responsible for running multiple show pages, so monitoring the conversation on a page for a show that hasn’t produced new episodes since 2016 is probably not their top priority. Still, from one social media manager to another, I messaged, and nothing.
I get it. A lot of producers we’ve worked with don’t have the bandwidth to monitor their pages, and we’re not on contract to do it for them anymore, so the social media accounts languish. The difference is, we’re not reposting content once a week to keep the shows and the network front and centre on Facebook Watch (where I daresay Comedy Central is collecting some sweet, sweet ads monetization).
So what’s the solution? Quality Assurance the first time around. To post a video with a custom SRT, the social media manager actually has to select that SRT and upload it with the video. So take a minute or three and make sure it works. Make sure it’s the right one. And then follow up on the day it’s posted to make sure everything went off correctly and to make adjustments if needed.
SNL and Global News?
After I wrote this but before we published, I was served an SNL sketch on Facebook Watch, “Tom Hanks plays Trump supporter on 'SNL's Black Jeopardy.” It was posted over five years ago by the Facebook page for Global News -- not the main Global TV page, but Global NEWS. A racially and politically charged sketch. A small number of people commented about the optics of this entertainment piece being published by a news organization. No one responded and five years later, it’s still up. It can’t be easy managing a social page that’s constantly posting news articles. But any organization should have a mechanism for making sure that mistakes are acknowledged and corrected.
James Woods has worked with Innovate By Day managing and consulting on social media and digital content for Canadian film and television clients since 2011 (full-time since 2014). He has tinnitus and mild hearing loss from years of standing behind a microphone in front of a bar band and takes full responsibility for that. Hearing protection only works if you use it.
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