A handful of LGBTQ content creators on Tuesday sued YouTube and its parent company, Google, alleging the video-streaming giant had muzzled LGBTQ users’ videos and hampered their ability to generate ad revenue.
YouTube subjects LGBTQ users “to unlawful content regulation, distribution, and monetization practices that stigmatize, restrict, block, demonetize, and financially harm the LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs and the greater LGBTQ+ Community,” the creators claimed in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose and obtained by Business Insider.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, further alleged that the company “arbitrarily” excludes LGBTQ-related videos from recommended content and deploys its “restricted mode” to unfairly restrain LGBTQ creators’ speech. It uses algorithms and manual employee reviews to “restrict access to the LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs’ videos under vague and undefined terms such as ‘mature’ or ‘sensitive’ for certain audiences,” due to a video discussing or even mentioning topics like “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender” or “queer,” they added.
The plaintiffs also claim that YouTube sold ads to users promoting anti-gay messages and would run them right before the plaintiffs’ videos. The company also recommends videos with anti-LGBTQ messages alongside the plaintiffs’ content, they allege.
“Defendants continue to threaten and harm the entire LGBTQ+ YouTube Community by using their unprecedented power over free speech and expression as a pretext to systematically target, suppress, stigmatize, terrorize, steal, and financially harm the video content created or viewed by the LGBTQ+ Community,” the lawsuit states.
Plaintiffs include Chris Knight, Celso Dulay, Cameron Stiehl, Bria Kam, Chrissy Chambers, Chase Ross, Brett Somers and Lindsay Amer.
Kam and Chambers, a married couple with more than 850,000 followers on their YouTube channel, BriaAndChrissy, claimed in the lawsuit that their monthly YouTube revenue had declined from $3,500 to less than $500 as a result of the company’s actions.
The lawsuit doesn’t disclose how much is being sought in damages.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in an interview last week that the site does “not automatically demonetize LGBTQ content,” The Verge reported. “There’s no policies that say ‘If you put certain words in a title, that will be demonetized,’” she said. “We work incredibly hard to make sure that when our machines learn something — because a lot of our decisions are made algorithmically — that our machines are fair. There shouldn’t be [any automatic demonetization].”
YouTube came under fire in 2017 for LGBTQ content like anti-discrimination messages and wedding kisses being excluded from videos available in its “restricted mode,” which the company says was intended for scenarios like schools and libraries seeking to restrict access to mature content.
“Our intention was never to limit this kind of content. … We’ve updated our policies to explicitly allow these videos in Restricted Mode — it still won’t work perfectly but over time our systems will get better,” Wojcicki wrote in a blog post during Pride Month that year. “We apologize for these issues and want to reaffirm our commitment that YouTube is a place where all voices can be heard.”
More recently, YouTube faced criticism in June over its refusal to remove the channel of Steven Crowder, a right-wing YouTube personality who had allegedly slung homophobic and racist harassment at Vox reporter Carlos Maza. The company later demonetized Crowder’s channel, but didn’t take down his videos.
Wojcicki later apologized to the LGBTQ community over the controversial decision, even as she defended how the company enforces its content policies.
“We need to enforce those policies consistently because if we were not to enforce them consistently, there would be millions of other people saying what about this video, what about this video, what about this video?” Wojcicki said in an interview. “If you look at the content on the internet, you look at rap songs, late-night talks, a lot of humor, you can find a lot of racial slurs or sexist comments. If we were to take down every video…”