LGBTQ YouTube Content Creators Sue, Claim Unfair Treatment

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 16, 2019

A group of LGBTQ YouTube content creators has brought suit against the platform, saying that YouTube punishes them for their content while allowing trolls, bigots, and anti-gay users to post comments that are far more disturbing than anything in their videos. They also say that the service allows anti-LGBTQ recommendations and ads to play in conjunction with their work, but does not similarly allow other LGTBQ content the same sort of access.

Forbes reported that the suit was filed by GNews! producers Celso Dulay and Chris Knight, who are partners in life as well as in business; Bria Kim and Chrissy Chambers; Lindsay Amer, the producer of Queer Kid Stuff; Chase Ross, a transman whose videos document his life experiences; and Brett Somers.

In addition to the complaints listed above, the group also alleges that YouTube's automated system kicks their content out money-making opportunities just because they deal with gay, trans, and queer content. They say the system unfairly flags their content as "inappropriate" or "shocking" just because they discuss non-heterosexual issues. At the same time, however, YouTube allows purveyors in hate speech, including creators of anti-LGBTQ content, to make money from material that targets the sexual minorities who use the platform.

YouTube denies that LGBTQ content creators are dealt with unfairly, but the BBC reports that a call heard by a BBC reporter included a Googe advertising representative who specifically pointed to "sexuality content about the gays" as something that the platform would restrict.

While those bringing the suit contend that their content is fundamentally inoffensive and is targeted due to keywords like "gay," "lesbian," and "trans," YouTube insists that such tags do not, in fact, trigger automatic restrictions.

"Our 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 BBC quoted YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph as saying.

Joseph also pointed to the platform's policies against hate speech, saying that the company has "strong policies prohibiting hate speech and we quickly remove content that violates our policies and terminate accounts that do so repeatedly."

The notion that YouTube treats LGBTQ content creators differently from others is deeply embedded and may not be easy to counteract. The appearance of institutional anti-LGBTQ bias was not helped by the episode earlier this summer in which openly gay Cuban American video reporter Carlos Maza made a video denouncing the racist and homophobic content that Canadian comedian Steve Crowder had posted about him. Maza also charged that some among Crowder's nearly four million followers had taken to trolling and attacking him online.

Among other slurs Maza said Crowder hurled at him were insults like "anchor baby," "gay Mexican," and "little queer."

After Maza reported Crowder's antics to YouTube — which monetizes Crowder's videos, in part through the sale of T-shirts reading "Socialism is for F*gs" — the social media giant brushed him off, contending that Crowder's insults did not violate the company's community standards, even though YouTube's own guidelines specifically state that "content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others" is not allowed, and neither is the posting of "hurtful and negative personal comments/videos" about individuals. YouTube also claims not to tolerate material that "incites others to harass or threaten" people.

In the face of growing controversy, however, YouTube amended its rules, updating its policies to specify that content would be considered in violation for "alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status."

While YouTube did demonetize Crowder's channel in the wake of Maza's complaints, Maza claimed that the Canadian commentator makes the bulk of his money selling items like his "Socialism is for F*gs" T-shirts "to millions of loyal customers, that @YouTube continues to drive to his channel. For free."

Moreover, YouTube refused to take down Crowder's offensive content, still saying that it did not violate their rules because Crowder's slurs constituted "debate" rather than personal attacks.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki defended that position, saying, "It's just from a policy standpoint we need to be consistent."

Added Wojcicki, "if we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we need to take down."

Wojcicki herself has been the target of threatening speech on YouTube: A 14-year-old YouTuber named Soph, whose videos have been accused of fomenting racism and anti-Muslim sentiment, made what appeared to be a death threat directed at Wojcicki earlier this year.

That young YouTube star eventually saw her account disabled. Media sources reported the tipping point came when Soph posted an anti-LGBTQ screed titled "Pride and Prejudice" that ended with her inviting viewers to "make sure to blame me in your manifestoes" — an apparent reference to a spate of mass shootings in which the perpetrators posted white supremacist talking points prior to going on their rampages.

After her account was suspended, Soph reportedly tweeted out another threatening message: A photo of herself with what looked like an assault weapon and the caption, "youtube headquarters here I come."

Even as LGBTQ content providers see YouTube - and Google, its parent company - as exhibiting inbuilt anti-LGBTQ animus, the country's conservatives have leveled similar charges against Google and other Internet giants such as Facebook, claiming that the platforms demonstrate bias against them - allegations that the companies deny. The GOP-dominated Senate has even conducted hearings into those claims of anti-conservative bias and spoken openly of taking action against the companies.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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