A group of YouTube creators is suing YouTube for allegedly discriminating against their LGBTQ-focused videos by suppressing recommendations and making it difficult to earn ad revenue.
The lawsuit alleges that YouTube uses “unlawful content regulation, distribution, and monetization practices that stigmatize, restrict, block, demonetize, and financially harm the LGBT Plaintiffs and the greater LGBT Community.” The lawsuit also alleges that both YouTube’s machine learning moderation tools and human reviewers unfairly target channels that have words such as “gay,” “bisexual,” or “transgender” in the title.
“YouTube is engaged in discriminatory, anticompetitive, and unlawful conduct that harms a protected class of persons under California law,” the lawsuit states. It alleges that YouTube’s actions have violated federal and California laws around speech, discrimination, and false advertising. A YouTube spokesperson told The Verge that the corporate’s policies “have no notion of sexual orientation or gender identity and our systems do not restrict or demonetize videos based on these factors or the inclusion of terms like ‘gay’ or ‘transgender.’”
The complainants — including Brett Somers, Lindsay Amer, Chris Knight, Celso Dulay, Cameron Stiehl, Chrissy Chambers, and Chase Ross — have spoken out about YouTube’s alleged treatment of the LGBTQ creator community in the past. In June 2018, Ross accused YouTube of age-gating and demonetizing his videos simply because he used the term “transgender” in his video titles and metadata. YouTube’s alleged discrimination pushed Ross to publish a lengthy video on the subject.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said just last week that YouTube does “not automatically demonetize LGBTQ content.”
“There are no policies that say ‘If you put certain words in a title that will be demonetized.'” Wojcicki told vlogger Alfie Deyes. “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].”
Still, Wojcicki’s comments come after years of frustration from the LGBTQ community. Many creators first voiced their concerns with the company in 2017, arguing that their content was seemingly hidden and demonetized. Just a couple of months later, YouTube found itself in another controversy after anti-LGBTQ ads started appearing on videos from LGBTQ creators.