A group of LGBTQ YouTubers have alleged in a federal lawsuit that YouTube and its parent company Google discriminate against LGBTQ creators by unfairly restricting their ability to make money from advertising and purposefully making it more difficult for their videos to reach a wider audience according to BBC News.
Five sets of YouTubers—GNews! producers Celso Dulay and Chris Knight, Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers, Brett Somers of WattsTheStanford, transgender YouTuber Chase Ross and Queer Kid Stuff creator Lindsay Amer—are accusing the platform of:
- Using algorithms that unfairly demonetize videos about LGBT issues by flagging them as “shocking,” “inappropriate,” “offensive,” and “sexually explicit” and therefore not appropriate for advertisers.
- Blocking LGBTQ creators from purchasing ads on other videos.
- Allowing homophobic reaction videos intended to mock and bully specific YouTubers to stay online and make money, while demonetizing videos uploaded by those who have been harassed.
- Letting anti-LGBTQ ads run before their own videos
- Recommending anti-LGBTQ videos in the “Up Next” section after their video is played, while excluding those from LGBTQ creators.
Celso Dulay and Chris Knight, a gay couple who produce GNews!, say in the lawsuit that YouTube has hampered their efforts to get new subscribers, which causes them to earn less advertising revenue. In the lawsuit, they say YouTube in 2017 prohibited them from buying ads to promote their LGBTQ holiday video because it was labeled as “shocking content.” They say a Google employee told them the video was flagged because it discussed being gay.
Transgender YouTuber Chase Ross also claims in the lawsuit that innocuous videos that merely mention or tag the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” or “transgender” get demonetized or put under the “Restricted Mode” filter, a setting that, when turned on, allows YouTube to block inappropriate videos. Ross told Forbes a video he posted about the lawsuit Wednesday was demonetized immediately (it was remonetized a few hours later).
“The lawsuit is about making sure we’re not censored as a community,” Ross says. “I found YouTube at 15 and it saved my life. I hear from people every day that they want to make a channel but they’re afraid of getting their content restricted, and it breaks my heart.”
Lindsay Amer, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, claims that YouTube allowed homophobic harassment in the comments section of their videos after neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer posted about them. Amer’s channel, Queer Kids Stuff, features educational videos about LGBTQ issues for children.
It got to the point, Amer says, where they had to disable comments altogether in order to block more than 10 different spellings of the word “pedophile.” Disabling comments hurt them financially because engagement in the comments section is a metric YouTube uses to measure a video’s popularity, Amer says.
Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers, a couple who are also part of the lawsuit, say the response to the lawsuit has been overwhelmingly positive because the complaints against YouTube have been ongoing. When they do see a negative comment, it’s usually someone claiming that YouTube’s algorithms hurt everyone, not just LGBTQ creators. “Yes, other people and groups are being discriminated against, but we’re focusing on this part of the community because we’re part of it,” Chambers tells Forbes.
YouTube has been dogged by complaints about how it treats LGBTQ creators for years, but the issue came to a head in June after the company’s inconsistent and confusing response to Vox journalist Carlos Maza’s public callout of homophobic harassment by right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder. In the end, YouTube demonetized Crowder’s channel instead of removing it entirely.