YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing platform, has historically served as a resource of free, accessible LGBTQ+ education since its creation in 2005. In 2019, a small group of LGBTQ+ content creators filed a complaint against this platform and its parent company, Google, alleging that they had experienced discrimination from the ways YouTube enforces its policies. In their view, the policies are not consistently upheld, which gives unfair preference in content promotion to producers with large audiences, even when their content is hostile to LGBTQ+ communities. This research project uses oral histories from LGBTQ+ content consumers found in StoryCorps’ unpublished database to allow narratives to speak to this platform’s importance, revealing the necessity of care and intention in YouTube’s response to these criticisms. When looking more deeply into how this business interacts with its LGBTQ+ creators and audience, however, it becomes apparent that the platform prioritizes capital growth over establishing mutual relationships of trust and respect with people who are dependent on its tools.
In August 2019, a group of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and more) video creators on the popular visual media platform, YouTube, filed a complaint stating that the platform and its parent company, Google, had discriminated against them by suppressing their content. This suppression included both the restriction of their ability to sell advertising, as well as the culling of their subscribers. The suit added to multiple allegations against the video streaming site stated in videos posted to the platform itself (Bensinger 2019). The following statement from the lawsuit describes the overview of the complaints.
“The LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual or Queer content creators, viewers, users, and/or online consumers of YouTube who bring this lawsuit to redress Defendants Google/YouTube’s discrimination, fraud, unfair and deceptive business practices, unlawful restraint of speech, and breach of consumer contract rights on behalf of themselves and other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, or Queer persons (collectively referred to as the “LGBTQ+ Community”) who use the global social media site known as ‘YouTube’” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 4).
YouTube’s historic role in the education and empowerment of the LGBTQ+ population provides important context for this lawsuit.
YouTube is by far the world’s largest video-sharing platform, with nearly 2 billion monthly viewers (Bensinger 2019). The complaint that a portion of its LGBTQ+ content creators have filed was borne from the uneven manner in which the platform enforces its policies, giving unfair preference to producers with large audiences, even when their content is hostile to gay, lesbian, and other LGBTQ+ communities (Bensinger 2019). This problem has even more significant impact because of the monopolizing power that YouTube has over video-based content as a whole. Their broad control over public video content allows these monopolies to operate as the largest for-profit forum dedicated to free speech (Bensinger 2019). In the complaint, the Defendants estimated that YouTube reaps more than $25 billion in annual revenues and profits solely by regulating, distributing, and monetizing the free speech and expression of the 2.3 billion people who view and create content on YouTube (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 4).
YouTube/Google stated in sworn testimony to the U.S. Congress that “everyone’s voice” would be heard and subjected only to viewpoint-neutral, content-based rules and filtering that “apply equally” to all members of the YouTube Community, regardless of the individual user’s viewpoint or identity (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 5). Below is a section of the testimony’s transcript with Senator Cruz and YouTube’s Assistant General Counsel Juniper Downs.
“On January 17, 2018, Defendants, through YouTube’s Assistant General Counsel, Juniper Downs, confirmed to Congress that YouTube’s mission remains unchanged and the platform is designated and operates as a “public forum” for free speech and expression subject only to viewpoint-neutral, content-based regulations:
Senator Cruz: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Welcome to each of the witnesses. I’d like to start by asking each of the company representatives a simple question, which is: do you consider your companies to be neutral public fora?
Senator Cruz: I’m just looking for a yes or no whether you consider yourself to be a neutral public forum.
Senator Cruz: Ms. Downs?
Ms. Downs: Yes, our goal is to design products for everyone, subject to our policies and the limitations they impose on the types of content that people may share on our products.
Senator Cruz: So, you’re saying you do consider YouTube to be a neutral public forum?
Ms. Downs: Correct. We enforce our policies in a politically neutral way. Certain things are prohibited by our Community Guidelines, which are spelled out and provided publicly to all of our users (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 18).”
Rather than being free and open to all, however, YouTube’s mission as a viewpoint-neutral video hosting platform has allegedly been abandoned, “and the platform is increasingly engaged in a discriminatory and fraudulent profit scheme within which community members are now subjected to discriminatory, animus-based and content-based regulations and restrictions, designed to maximize Defendants’ financial and political interests” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 5). The LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs who helped build the YouTube platform as a space for the LGBTQ+ community are now claiming to be subjected to unlawful content regulation, distribution, and monetization practices that stigmatize and financially harm them and the greater LGBTQ+ community (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 6). The best depiction of why the restriction of LGBTQ+ content on the platform is detrimental to the community comes from those who have most directly benefited from the existence of this content.
In the original First Amendment lawsuit filed in August, 2019, LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019 (Case 5:19-cv-04749), plaintiffs included Divino (GlitterBombTv.com’s GNews!), BriaAndChrissy LLC (BriaAndChrissy), Chase Ross, Brett Somers a/k/a AMP (Watts the Safeword), and Lindsay Amer (Queer Kid Stuff). The suit was amended in November to also include plaintiffs Stephanie Frosch (ElloStephExtras and StephFrosch), (Sal Cinquemani (SalBardo), Tamara Johnson (SVTV Network), and Greg Scarnici (GregScarnici and UndercoverMusic). The Defendant is YouTube, LLC (“YouTube”) and its parent company, Google LLC (“Google”) (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 3).
The suit delves into complaints about the following “Tool Kit of Unlawful Speech Suppression”: Restricted Mode, advertising restrictions, AI filtering under Restricted Mode and advertising restrictions, deletion of LGBTQ+ content thumbnail images, cancelling and stopping new video notifications, excluding LGBTQ+ related content from the “Up Next” recommend application, recommending anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech in the “Up Next” recommend application alongside the LGBTQ+ the plaintiffs’ videos, including anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech in the comments section appearing on the same screen as the LGBTQ+ plaintiffs’ videos, and other unlawful speech-restricting tools (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 2). This First Amended Complaint (FAC) alleges the following:
“…legal rights [of the Plaintiffs] have been violated by Defendants’ use of the data regarding users’ gender, sexual orientation, religious, ethnic, racial, political and/or commercial and data driven identities and viewpoints, to restrain, discriminate against, economically crush, and cleanse disfavored users from the YouTube Platform in direct violation of the users’ civil and consumer rights. (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 1-2).
Furthermore, it alleges that:
“Google/YouTube’s cleansing of independent LGBTQ+ video content creators is not limited to discriminating against those creators and users who identify as, or express LGBTQ+ viewpoints. Documented evidence exists and lawsuits are pending or are being threatened by independent third party video creators and loyal users of the YouTube Platform who have been victimized by Defendants’ practices because of the users’ race, religion, political affiliations, or commercial status. Google/YouTube is using identity based censorship to determine who can and cannot continue to use the YouTube platform” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 2-3).
The suit introduces a new freedom of speech claim that alleges that Google/YouTube are using and applying “subjective, vague, and over-broad criteria which give the Defendants unfettered and unbridled discretion to censor speech for arbitrary, capricious, or nonexistent reasons” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 102). It alleges that the “Defendants’ actions also violate Plaintiffs’ right to free association and assembly by blocking viewers’ access to videos and comments” and that their “actions were done with the intent to deprive Plaintiffs and other LGBTQ+ YouTube users of their right to free speech” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 102-103). Finally, the complaint alleges that the “Defendants are operating a Company Town in which YouTube is designated as the public forum or “town-square” for the community to gather and engage in free speech, expression, communication, and to exchange ideas” (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 103).
These complaints, compared to YouTube’s policies and the review of the existing literature below, serve as the main source for the statements in the following paper. This is a limitation based on the lack of academic research and monitoring done on YouTube’s algorithmic relationship with the platform’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Demonetization” is the removal of ad revenue from particular channels or specific videos on a channel. “Restriction Mode” is a setting through which YouTube screens all videos for potential “mature content.” If a video is deemed inappropriate for minors or for advertisers, it can be demonetized, restricted, or both (“Advertiser-friendly Content Guidelines” and “Disable or enable Restricted Mode,” 2020). YouTube’s Community Guidelines and monetization rules state that videos that include the following will be demonetized: spam, deceptive practices, and scams; nudity and sexual content; child safety; harmful or dangerous content; hate speech; harassment and cyberbullying (“Advertiser-friendly Content Guidelines” and “Disable or enable Restricted Mode,” 2020).
Review of Existing Literature
While there is not much academic literature directly testing YouTube’s algorithms and LGBTQ+ keywords, the following is a review of literature related to important ideas surrounding YouTube’s importance to the LGBTQ+ community as an audio-visual platform, computer-mediated communication’s impact on identity formation, and the ways Google benefits from algorithmic discrimination.
Physical location greatly impacts queer representation offline. In “Negotiating Identities/Queering Desires: Coming Out Online and the Remediation of the Coming‐Out Story,” Gray explains that rural youth in the United States less likely to know older LGBTQ+ adults and therefore often struggle with finding opportunities to explore LGBTQ identities (Gray 2009, 1181). Culturally, the majority of people assume that individuals are heterosexual until they give evidence that they are (Gray 2009, 1181). While most young people now can easily learn what “gay” means, this identifier can be seen in opposition to their everyday surroundings. “Beyond a moment of visibility provided by mainstream television and film, genres of queer realness circulate compelling images of peers on a similar quest for verity and viability” (Gray 2009, 1182). Representations of LGBTQ+ identity, like on YouTube, offer youth to an opportunity to acknowledge their queerness within familiarity, pulling these ideas from mainstream media into an online, accessible space (Gray 2009, 1182). The ability to access this online information allows for a more informed identity construction.
This construction of a sexual and gender identity is one of the major developmental elements of adolescence. One study that looked specifically at self-identifying lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals found that the Internet was the most common tool used in the process of this aspect of identity-formation (Bond 2009, 43). Almost half of the sample reported using the Internet as their primary source of LGBTQ+ information (Bond 2009, 43). Media was also used more frequently than any face-to-face interpersonal relationships as a source of information gathering during the coming-out (announcing one’s sexuality when one is not heterosexual) process (Bond 2009, 43).
Social media interactions are looked at specifically in “Queer identity online: Informal learning and teaching experiences of LGBTQ individuals on social media” (Fox 2016). The use of social media by LGBTQ individuals to discover their emerging identity is often referred to as “informal” education (Fox 2016, 635). In addition to informal education, Fox and Ralston identified three types of learning tied to LGBTQ+ information seeking. The first, traditional learning, comes from looking for specific information about LGBTQ-related issues (Fox 2016, 637). The second, social learning, comes from finding examples of people to emulate, studying their ways of experiencing LGBTQ+ identity (Fox 2016, 638). The third, experiential learning, involves more direct relationship formation, often through dating apps that allow people to experiment with their sexual and gender presentations (Fox 2016, 639). These apps facilitate connections that are computer-mediated.
CMC (computer-mediated communication) allows for networking between individuals that may feel stigmatized or physical incapable to interact in person (Green 2015, 704). YouTube is the most popular media platform for user-generated video, and this popularity is mirrored amongst the LGBTQ+ population (Green 2015, 704). The combination of sound and moving image has expanded the ways that the LGBTQ+ community can express with their online identity (Green 2015, 704). YouTube has also served as a space for experienced LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to provide support for those who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities. The It Gets Better Project, for example, was a massive movement that began on YouTube (Green 2015, 704).
YouTube’s parent company, Google, connects advertisers, businesses, and everyday users to one another (Srnicek 2017, 254). Data, the resource that drives these platform businesses, gives Google its competitive advantages. The company provides the infrastructure through which groups can communicate without a paywall. This allows Google to monitor and extract all the data gained within the interactions between these groups (Srnicek 2017, 254-255). Platforms are able to work the way they do because they have the capacity to generate the network affects that benefit them most (Srnicek 2017, 255). The more individuals are using a platform, take YouTube as an example, the more valuable that platform becomes for everyone because the platform is able to build out its personalization attributes (Srnicek 2017, 255). These powerhouses are then made virtually unbeatable by any competitors, making the communities that use them vulnerable to the decisions of the platform (Srnicek 2017, 256).
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism exposes the ways in which Google is not a platform that equally presents all forms of ideas within its search engine (Noble 2018). The combination of the promotion of specific websites that serve Google financially, along with Google’s general monopoly status both lead to biased search (Noble 2018). A website’s discoverability (what turns up when an individual searches for different things) currently works to enable a culture of racism and sexism (Noble 2018). Private interests affect the promotion of certain sites and contribute to the monopoly status of Google and its company, YouTube, privileging certain groups of people over others (Noble 2018).
StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization designed to preserve and share the stories of American communities of diverse backgrounds, carries three unpublished interviews in its archive in which YouTube is cited as a specific source for LGBTQ+ education and a tool for empowerment. With direction and permission from the librarians at the American Folklife Center, located in the Library of Congress, it is possible to access interviews by using keywords and self-identifiers submitted by the people who conducted and uploaded the interviews. By seeking out interviewees with LGBTQ+ identifiers and the keyword “YouTube” in the description provided by interview participants, the importance of this platform to many individuals presented itself within the transcripts of the following interviews.
YouTube as a Platform for Personal Development
Anna Book, interviewed through StoryCorps by her mother, Sarah, speaks about finally being able to create genuine relationships in high school, discovering her sexuality, and appreciating how she will never “fit into a box” (Book 2016). Having grown up in South Carolina, Book was not surrounded by a vocal group of LGBTQ+ peers. She recalls spending a lot of her time simply watching people in elementary school, and signals that time of her life as the point she began to understand how to behave in ways that her peers would deem acceptable to make her “popular” (Book 2016). Book reflects on the peer pressure she felt to behave in certain ways, even to bully another student to impress her friends. Book’s coming out story was particularly impacted by YouTube’s influence. After attending Girls State, a youth empowerment program geared towards connecting young women who live in the same state, Book learned how to make more diverse friendships without limiting herself to a certain brand of person. She became more open to relationships with people who were “intrinsically different” from her (Book 2016). After recognizing that there was not a prescribed, correct way to live, she began considering her sexuality. In the StoryCorps interview, she discussed that she had been a lesbian all her life, and that she knew without “really knowing” until the beginning of her senior year of high school, when one of her favorite YouTube content creators made a coming out video (Book 2016).
“Coming out” videos are “a special and important part of YouTube culture,” according to Jamie Byrne, the Senior Director of Content Partnerships, who handles partner management for YouTube Creators. Byrne told The Huffington Post in 2017 that “The LGBTQ creators who share their personal stories through our platform inspire us with their acts of courage and remind us of why it’s important to make sure YouTube remains a place where everyone can have a voice” (Wong, 2017). YouTube has long stood as a place where LGBTQ+ people can say, with control over how the image and audio are both presented, that they are part of the community. They can share the video easily, creating a safe space for a vulnerable conversation, rather than having to Come Out multiple times to individual people.
For the first time, Book was introduced to the idea that lesbians could look like her – feminine, cisgender, not stereotypically “boyish” (Book 2016). Book’s favorite content creator, Ingrid Nilsen, makes her livelihood on YouTube as a “beauty guru” (Book 2016). Nilsen’s coming out video marked Book’s entryway into recognizing that she, like Nilsen, was gay, though she did not fit into her own stereotypes about queerness. Book notes that she re-watched this video every week her junior year of high school, and it took her about a year for her to accept how uncomfortable she was with the idea of dating men. With the help of Nilsen’s example, Book was able to look back at interactions she had had with young women that she had not initially realized were, indeed, romantic. She had always pushed these relationships away before having to accept what they meant. For Book, the men in her life had represented something she thought wouldn’t be possible without them. “That wasn’t the picture of the life that I wanted. I wanted the house and the two kids” (Book 2016). Anna Book’s experience is an example of why visual and varied LGBTQ+ representation can be beneficial to young people, and of how YouTube as an open, accessible platform for both viewers and creators can create a space for self-acceptance and growth.
Understanding YouTube’s Alleged Content Moderation against LGBTQ+ Creators
In the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs argue that YouTube brands LGBTQ+ content as “shocking,” “offensive,” and/or “sexually explicit,” not because of the video’s actual content (which far more often than not does not contain sexual visuals), but because the viewpoints expressed involve what an individual content curator has dubbed the “gay thing,” or because the content was posted by or viewed by YouTube community members who themselves identify as “gay” (LGBTQ+ v. Google YouTube 2019, 4). One of many examples of this bias that can be found on YouTube is Chase Ross’s video from 2018 entitled “ANTI-LGBT ADS ON MY TRANS VIDEOS: YOUTUBE HYPOCRISY [CC].” In this video, Ross explains, while scrolling through his creator studio page reports, that if two video titles are exactly the same but one includes the word “Trans,” the video with the LGBTQ+ word is demonetized while the other remains monetized (Ross 2018).
In direct violation of their Community Guidelines and monetization rules, YouTube uses its monopoly power over content regulation and monetization to promote and profit from threatening hate speech and online bullying directed at the LGBTQ+ community, including the LGBTQ+ creators who filed the lawsuit (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube Complaint, 2019). When YouTube personality Steven Crowder’s homophobic tirades against Carlos Maza, a queer Vox journalist, were not demonetized after multiple complaints, YouTube doubled down on its choices. The company initially stated that Crowder’s videos were not inciting harassment but, following public outcry, issued a formal apology and upheld their original policies (Stokel-Walker 2019). Though YouTube has denied the claims, The Washington Post reported in August 2019 that moderators for YouTube are trained to treat the most popular video producers differently than smaller producers by allowing hateful speech to remain on their sites while enforcing their policies more stringently against less financially lucrative creators (Bensinger 2019).
By restricting and demonetizing only videos belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, YouTube makes its priority of profits at any cost clear. YouTube arbitrarily suppresses the video content of LGBTQ+ YouTubers solely because they are “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” or “queer,” because they identify as such, and because they address issues of interest to the LGBTQ+ community. These tags, however, make it easier for viewers to locate this content, so avoiding tagging videos would also cause problems (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 7-8). The inconsistencies around demonetization and the leniency towards hate speech against LGBTQ+ people defy the platform’s outward appearance as an ally. For example, Nilsen’s video contains tags such as: coming out, lgbt, gay, lesbian, coming out story, coming out experience, and self-acceptance (Nilsen 2015). The first few words in this list would, if what the plaintiffs have alleged is accurate, likely demonetize this coming out video, stigmatizing the content that allowed Book to acknowledge her sexuality as early as she did. Worse than demonetization, however, is the LGBTQ+ content tags that flag these videos for Restricted Mode.
According to the Google Support website, there are two ways a video can become unavailable when Restricted Mode is turned on. Firstly, the automated system checks flags like the video’s metadata, title, and the language used in the video (“Disable or enable Restricted Mode” 2020). The metadata and title likely are the two places where LGBTQ+ words get flagged. Secondly, a video may not be available in Restricted Mode because human reviewers have applied an age restriction to access the video after the tags were flagged. After viewing the videos, human bias can play into if a video is restricted or demonetized (“Disable or enable Restricted Mode” 2020). Restricted Mode placement on non-sexual LGBTQ+ videos limit the ability of people under 18 from accessing this free education and entertainment resource. The occurrences of this bias affect young LGBTQ+ people, like Book, looking for or discovering representation.
A Case Study of Restriction Mode on LGBTQ+ YouTube Creators
“No one’s sexuality is really a big thing when they’re in elementary school. I was a target because I read books. Eventually it became more than being called ‘Faggot’ or ‘Queer’ – it started to get physical” (Shepherd 2015). Will Shepherd (“shep689” on YouTube and other social media platforms) stated in his StoryCorps interview that his YouTube channel gave him power over the PTSD he experiences from being bullied in his youth for being bookish and gay. “A couple of times I was set on fire – I had a bald spot from my hair getting burnt off before. I grew up thinking this was just what happened to young people. ‘Oh, this is what you can expect from being ‘different’” (Shepherd 2015). Shepherd did not understand that the torment he experienced was based on homophobia and cruelty until he went to college. Even after he had officially come out, he did not have anyone enduring the same experience around him with he could empathize (Shepherd 2015). “I think all the time about how much I wish the person I am now could have run into me when I was a little kid on the sidewalk. I needed somebody to tell me that none of the cruelty was my own fault” (Shepherd 2015). Shepherd started his YouTube channel in 2008, only three years after the platform’s founding in 2005. By posting a video called “My Coming Out Story” in late January of 2009, Shepherd participated in the Coming Out video tradition on YouTube, one that has only become more popular as the platform continues to grow (Wong 2017).
Like Ingrid Nilsen’s example, these Coming Out Videos are popular resources for LGBTQ+ YouTube users and for the creators themselves as both a tool of expression and as examples for how to discuss a vulnerable and often stressful topic. “I started YouTube because I wanted to share and show people what I went through. This is what I experienced and here’s how I am continuing to live my life” (Shepherd 2015). Shepherd and his partner post videos to motivate people just to get through their daily lives. “I wish I had access to this (YouTube), when I was in high-school, I wish I’d had something to refer to. There was this Coming Out story archive. I saw a lot of other kids talking about their experiences and I thought the free resource and community was amazing” (Shepherd 2015). Shepherd and his partner’s content provide a glimpse into the everyday experiences of a gay couple. According to Shepherd, “People were so moved by us just living our lives together, being gay in the South together. We started doing videos every day” (Shepherd 2015). While the channel began as a way for Shepherd to work through his past, creating and producing this content has become his full-time job – the channel has more than 223,000 subscribers – and an outlet for him to create evidence for the perspective he wished he had in high school (Shepherd 2015).
The LGBTQ+ plaintiffs mention demonetization often, as it affects even the LGBTQ+ YouTubers who operate and publish content on some of the most popular channels on the YouTube platform (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 8). Shepherd’s partner, RJ Aguiar, started looking around at his own channel, TheNotAdam (which has over 131,000 subscribers as of April, 2020), and noticed most videos mentioning his bisexuality would be disabled in Restricted Mode. “For creator after creator, you can see them getting filtered for what is not adult content,” (Ogles 2017). On Shepherd’s channel, Aguiar noticed that the video chronicling the couple’s trip to San Diego is marked as restricted. The only reason he noted for this clip to be flagged was that the video showed a same-sex couple (Ogles 2017). While Shepherd touted the positive position of YouTube during his StoryCorps interview in 2015, his now-husband recently discovered that their family-friendly vacation content is still being flagged by the platform (Shepherd 2015).
Unlike Shepherd, who did not start participating on the platform as a creator until adulthood in 2009, Desmond Napoles (“Desmond is Amazing” on YouTube), one of the youngest drag performers in America, began posting to his account in 2015 when he was 8 years old. His channel champions LGBTQ+ awareness and the drag-performance experiences. Despite his age, Napoles has a successful channel with 57,000 subscribers. Napoles started making videos as a way to deal with what he had been experiencing in school, posting his first video after being bullied. He has even started his own drag-house for kids (a community for people who enjoy the creativity and freedom that comes with clothing not restricted by gender). Being so young and having early access to the LGBTQ+ content on YouTube helped Napoles become more confident in who he is, and, like Shepherd, he posts to his channel to remind people, particularly young people, to “Be yourself, always” (Guinan 2019). YouTube has allegedly made it difficult for LBGTQ+ content to show up for people under the age of 18, and people like Napoles, who are critical in terms of representation for LGBTQ+ minors, are the ones affected. In his StoryCorps interview, Napoles was asked if he fears being bullied in the future for the way he dresses, and he, almost harshly, responds, “I have never been scared of drag and I will never be scared of doing drag. Period.” In addition to this sincerity, Napoles clearly states that his biggest hope for the LGBTQ+ community is that everyone becomes accepting of his LGBTQ+ peers and that people outside of the community become active allies (Guinan 2019). For Napoles, YouTube has been a tool to both post and receive educational information. If this content continues to be demonetized in its entirety and restricted from the view of minors, the ally-stance of YouTube itself will continue to crumble in the eyes of its LGBTQ+ creators and audience.
LGBTQ+ content creators generally must spend substantial time and energy attempting to use YouTube’s word filters for the comments section application to remove the hate speech comments on their videos (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 35). These creators are often unable to capture all of the different misspellings used in the hate speech to avoid YouTube’s word filters and are, therefore, unable to protect against many of the comments (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 35). Particularly for new videos, hate speech trolls flood the comments section of the LGBTQ+ creators’ YouTube channels so that each positive comment is pushed down in the queue of comments and becomes practically invisible (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 35). QueerKidStuff, a kid-friendly Queer channel designed with people like Napoles in mind, has been forced to disable the Comments Section to protect its young viewers and their parents from seeing derogatory comments. Because of this necessary action, QueerKidStuff generates less buzz for new content, fewer views per video uploaded, fewer subscribers, and barely any revenue from its videos (LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube 2019, 68).
YouTube has profited from and distributed online hate speech. The platform has done this by allowing videos perpetuating these ideas to show up as recommended videos and as advertisements on pro-LGBTQ+ videos, all of which violate YouTube’s own policies (Farokhmanesh 2018). YouTube’s neglect towards protecting LGBTQ+ content from hate speech directly inhibits the ability of kids to find content they may need and puts them in danger when they seek out positive LGBTQ+ educational videos.
The findings of this study reveal some limitations, including the limited access to data, especially as the LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube Complaint, Case 5:19-cv-04749-VKD is still in litigation. The case itself serves as the bulk of source material not supported by the StoryCorps oral histories. Because of this, many of the complaints and discriminatory actions described in this paper are qualified as “alleged.”
It is through understanding the stories of Anna Book, Will Shepherd, and Desmond Napoles that we can further comprehend the entire picture of why YouTube has played a key role in the modern LGBTQ+ movement. Though the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated many wins, there are still vulnerable communities whose only safe access to real, relatable LGBTQ+ people and information is through YouTube. As an open-source platform, YouTube has promoted LGBTQ+ presence on the surface by posting Pride-inspired videos and seemingly valuing its Queer creators with larger audiences. When examining more deeply into how this company interacts with its LGBTQ+ creators and audience, however, it becomes apparent that the platform would rather profit off of hate speech than allow people like our StoryCorps interviewees to have trust in the intentions of the tool upon which they have grown dependent. The historical importance of this platform to the LGBTQ+ community, the suppressive content moderation practices used against LGBTQ+ creators, and the LGBTQ+ v. Google-YouTube lawsuit present an example of how discrimination can present itself algorithmically, at the expense of those who most frequently rely on these systems.
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