Black YouTubers sue Google – CNET

YouTube logo on a laptop screen

YouTube is the world’s biggest online video source, with more than 2 billion visitors a month. 

Angela Lang/CNET

A group of Black YouTubers is suing YouTube and its parent, Google, alleging that the companies discriminate against their videos based on race. The suit claims that YouTube uses its automated tools to “restrict, censor and denigrate” Black creators, hurting their subscribers and revenue, while videos with racist hate speech are hosted and allowed to make money on the site even after being flagged for violating YouTube’s rules.  

Their complaint comes in the middle of a national reckoning with racism in the US, triggered by the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. YouTube is among the tech giants making large donations to social justice initiatives alongside public statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

After announcing a $100 million fund to support Black video creators earlier this week, YouTube has “some serious explaining to do,” the lawsuit says, adding that YouTube and Google should “spend their money to stop the racist practices that pervade the YouTube platform.”

Plaintiffs in the latest complaint include YouTubers associated with the Lisa Cabrera channel, with more than 20 million views; the channel Lisa’s View, with about 11 million views; the channels The True Royal Family and True Royal, which combined have 3.4 million views; and three channels related to the creator Carmen CaBoom, which have roughly 550,000 views combined. All the creators suing YouTube claim that the company has removed or archived their videos unfairly, hurting their revenue. 

YouTube said Thursday that it is reviewing the complaint. It added that it allows anyone to post videos that abide by the site’s policies and guidelines, which it says it enforces in a neutral and consistent way. YouTube wants the service to include a variety of voices and perspectives, the company said. 

Asked about the lawsuit later Thursday during a virtual event with The Washington Post, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the company is going to look at the complaint and “try to understand what concerns are there.” She listed off a few successful Black creators, including Jackie Aina, a beauty creator who focuses on issues for people of color, and Marques Brownlee, a gadget YouTuber. Earlier this month, Brownlee posted a video called “Reflecting on the color of my skin,” where he shares his own experiences on race.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses YouTube of “overt, intentional, and systematic racial discrimination,” saying the companies “rig the game” by restricting and blocking these Black YouTubers based on their racial identity but not subjecting YouTube’s own produced videos to the same scrutiny. The YouTubers also complain of YouTube profiting off videos with hate speech, which remain up with advertising on the site. 

The suit also accuses YouTube of “bugging” the creators’ videos with metadata and other signals that let its automated systems filter videos based on race, identity or the viewpoint of the creator, the channel’s subscribers and its viewers. Videos by the YouTubers filing the suit have been restricted, removed, limited in how much advertising revenue they earn or demonetized completely. 

YouTube said Thursday that its automated systems are not designed to identify the race, ethnicity or sexual orientation of creators or viewers.  

Video demonetization, or removing the advertising from a video, has been hotly debated among YouTubers for years. The issue is a central to another suit against YouTube filed last year by a group of LGBTQ YouTubers. They claimed YouTube restricts their videos and crimps their advertising and revenue, too, because of LGBTQ content.  

Tuesday’s suit by the Black YouTubers cites proceedings in the LGBTQ YouTubers’ case as support for its argument, adding that the two cases could be coordinated. 

During Thursday’s interview with the Post, Wojcicki reflected on the past few months, including the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests all over the world. She said she understands people will look back on this time period. 

“I just want to make sure that as we’re making decisions, I’m thinking about things in terms of being on the right side of history,” she said. “It might be hard right now, but how will we think about it in the future?”

See also: How to become a YouTuber: Online classes and equipment to get started

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