In a few of her videos, Poynter offers viewers a promo code to get 10 minutes of professional captioning for free from a company called Rev (the service Oakley uses). One of a number of players in the cheap-captions market, Rev charges consumers a dollar per minute of audio and promises an accuracy rate of 99 percent. Message boards where transcriptionists and captioners gather tend to paint a grim picture of life as a Rev freelancer, however. “A monkey at the zoo gets paid better than you,” someone wrote on the anonymous employer-review site Indeed.com. (Rev’s CEO and co-founder, Jason Chicola, says that transcriptionists are generally paid 50 cents per minute of finished audio, and defended the pay rate as adequate for someone who can caption quickly and accurately.)
YouTubers who can’t or won’t pay for a service like Rev can turn to crowdsourcing. YouTube’s community-contributions feature allows all viewers to submit their own captions for a video, with the permission of the video’s creator. But when the feature first launched, some popular channels quickly filled up with emoticons, LOLs, and false captions that commented on the action on-screen. Some channels became known for their dissonant captions, like the comedy channel Markiplier. YouTube responded by instituting a vetting process. Before publication, proposed captions can now be flagged by other contributors, which triggers a review by YouTube’s human moderators (automated systems also assess the reliability of contributors in order to filter out pranksters). By default, it’s the crowd that performs quality control: When enough votes of approval have piled up, captions go live regardless of whether the creator has reviewed them.
To satisfy the demands of #NoMoreCRAPtions, YouTube could, in theory, require that all video creators must add their own captions or hire someone to do so. Liat Kaver, a product manager at Google, which owns YouTube, pointed out that such a rule wouldn’t necessarily ensure that video creators would do a good job. It also might exclude some creators, such as “people who are illiterate, but upload videos to YouTube,” and “citizen journalism or creators that are registering events as they happen (e.g. Arab Spring),” Kaver, who is herself deaf and uses a cochlear implant, told me over email.
A second option would be for YouTube itself to hire people to caption videos. When I asked whether Google would consider doing so to voluntarily meet ADA requirements, a spokesperson responded that the company had nothing further to add.
The other—and perhaps most likely—possibility is that technology will simply catch up. Auto-captions, Poynter notes, are actually getting better, pushed forward in part by a growing demand for captioning from businesses with international workforces for whom English is a second language. Rev, the captioning company, now offers its own automatic speech-recognition software on its sister site, Temi, for a lower price than its human-captioner services. The company still extols the superiority of human transcriptionists, but claims that computer-generated transcripts are becoming competitive with those made by people.