Montreal LGBTQ content creator among group suing YouTube

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, August 16, 2019 6:45AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 16, 2019 6:46AM EDT

A Canadian is among a group of LGBTQ content creators who have launched a class action lawsuit against YouTube in the United States, alleging the popular video-sharing website is censoring their content.

The group of eight, which includes several prominent U.S. creators and Montreal-based transgender YouTuber Chase Ross, announced it is taking a stand against the video publisher and its parent company, Google, in a suit filed in California on Wednesday.

In a statement, YouTube said it doesn’t target LGBTQ content. But Ross, the lone Canadian plaintiff for now, said the mere mention in videos of such words as “transgender,” “gay” and “lesbian” — or the use of those words in titles and tags — can get a video flagged as sensitive, restricting their views and curtailing advertising.

“We are a group of LGBTQ creators that have had enough,” Ross said. “It has been affecting us for years and I’m so glad we’re going to be doing something about it, because after doing videos and talking with YouTube, nothing happened.”

Ross recounted in an interview being particularly affected last year when an anniversary video about his surgery was flagged.

“I’d had surgery five years ago. It’s a big moment in my transition. I was really excited, and the moment I added the word ‘transgender’ in the title, it was demonetized,” Ross explained. Demonetization renders a video unsuitable for advertisers.

“I did two tests and it still happened the same way so I made a big deal about it online, I made a big fuss because people needed to know.”

Ross said an algorithm makes the determination, and LGBTQ videos often find themselves flagged, even if there’s nothing inherently offensive or inappropriate in them.

“There are a lot of videos that talk about LGBT content — there’s nothing sexual in the video — and it’s demonetized,” Ross said.

In a statement, YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph said the company is proud that “so many LGBTQ creators have chosen YouTube as a place to share their stories and build community.”

Joseph said all content on the 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,’ ” Joseph said. “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.”

Ross, who began using the platform when he was 15, said YouTube was a revolutionary in his own experience.

“YouTube is where I found myself — it’s where I found out what trans people were. It’s where I found out that you can be trans and can live, and it’s okay to be trans,” said Ross, now 28.

“It really saved my life so when I started making content. I started making content for the younger me, the content that didn’t exist, the information that I never had when I was younger.”

He now has 164,000 subscribers and his videos can get 10,000 views or more.

Ultimately, Ross doesn’t want to be censored, nor does he want to have to censor himself to get published.

“YouTube really changes lives and it helps people that live in places where a queer or trans community doesn’t exist, so they’re not so alone,” Ross said. “When content gets demonetized or is deemed as inappropriate, people see that and they associate the LGBT community with things that aren’t appropriate.”

What Ross is looking for is accountability from Google/YouTube.

“More than anything, I want systemic change, I want there to be change in the platform, I want people to be treated equally on the platform,” Ross said.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks an injunction requiring YouTube to “cease and desist from capriciously restricting, demonetizing, or otherwise censoring any content of videos uploaded to the YouTube site.” It is also seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

While the LGBTQ community is pushing the lawsuit, Ross said others like family bloggers and disabled people also face similar problems.

“We are hoping that this is a stepping-stone to changing the system for everyone,” he said.