A group of LGBTQ+ creators has sued YouTube and its parent company Google, alleging that the video platform was regularly restricting their abilities to make money with their videos based on their sexual orientation. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California Tuesday and first reported by the Washington Post Wednesday morning, seeks class-action status.
“YouTube is engaged in discriminatory, anticompetitive, and unlawful conduct that harms a protected class of persons under California law,” the lawsuit alleges. A YouTube spokesperson responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
“We’re proud that so many LGBTQ creators have chosen YouTube as a place to share their stories and build community. All content on our site is subject to the same policies. 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.” In addition, we have strong policies prohibiting hate speech, and we quickly remove content that violates our policies and terminate accounts that do so repeatedly.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the creators of GNews!, Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers (BriaAndChrissy), Chase Ross (uppercaseCHASE1), Lindsay Amer (Queer Kid Stuff) and Amp Somers (Watts The Safeword).
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In their lawsuit, these creators allege that YouTube regularly labels their videos as offensive or sexually explicit simply because of their sexual orientation. They also allege that their videos are regularly being demonetized, that YouTube changes their thumbnail videos, and excludes them from content recommendations, resulting in suppressed view counts.
This all happens while YouTube doesn’t enforce its content policies against users harassing LGBTQ creators, the lawsuit alleges:
“Defendants’ control and regulation of speech on YouTube has resulted in a chaotic cesspool where popular, compliant, top quality, and protected LGBTQ+ content is restricted, stigmatized, and demonetized as “shocking,” “inappropriate,” “offensive,” and “sexually explicit,” while homophobic and racist hatemongers run wild and are free to post vile and obscene content on the pages and channels of the LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs and other LGBTQ+ content creators.”
To further make their case, the plaintiffs published a video on YouTube Wednesday morning:
The lawsuit comes just a few months after YouTube faced a backlash over the way it handled homophobic speech on its platform. At the time, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki apologized for its handling of a particularly high-profile case, which involved the far-right YouTube commentator Steven Crowder mocking gay Vox journalist Carlos Maza.
“I know the decision we made was very hurtful to the LGBT community and that was not our intention at all,” she said during an interview at Recode’s Code Conference.
The lawsuit alleges that this was just a PR exercise: “Instead of taking LGBTQ+ reports of viewpoint discrimination and selective restrictions on LGBTQ+ content seriously, Ms. Wojcicki spent some of her “personal vacation” time doing carefully scripted PR or “selfie” interviews with selected YouTubers.”
The lawsuit also cites recent reports by the New York Times that suggested that the video platform was in part to blame for the election of Brazil’s far-right and homophobic president Jair Bolsonaro, and reference recent appearances of Google and YouTube executives in congressional hearings.
In addition to monetary compensation, the lawsuit is also asking the court to order an injunction that would stop YouTube from “censoring, restricting, restraining, or regulating speech based on the discretionary use or application of discriminatory, animus-based, arbitrary, capricious, vague, unspecified, or subjective criteria, rules, guidelines, and/or practices.”
Update: 12:53pm: This post was updated with the statement of a YouTube spokesperson.