Pride Month: YouTube is demonetising LGBTQ+ videos and harming careers.

Photo by Matias Rengel on Unsplash

In time for Pride month, YouTube’s homophobia and transphobia in its content policies has come back into public attention. Several successful creators on the platform have shown how the algorithms, which decides if a video can earn them income, are discriminating against LGBQ+ related work.

This is the case with Chase Ross (uppercaseCHASE1), a prominent professional YouTuber who recently found that over 100 of his videos were demonetised or restricted over a very short space of time. He also happens to be trans.

Chase has been creating videos for over 12 years discussing his experiences as a trans man, educating people, doing product reviews and more. In a recent video he shared how each day he gets new notifications that his videos have been ‘age restricted’, and how, when analysing his old content he discovered that many had been demonetised too. Some of this is because he is the target of an organised campaign to flag his videos and get them restricted — but the bullying motive of other people doesn’t get YouTube off the hook.

He has also made several tests that show how just using the word ‘trans’ in a video headline gets it instantly demonetised, even without people having a moment to claim the content is inappropriate, or use the system against him.

YouTube dispute that they have any such policy, but the instant changes these tests show make this line seem ridiculous:

This isn’t new. In September 2017 Creator GeekRemix did a similar test, and fans and other creators are using #femaletodemonetized to share these stories.

The classification whether a video is ‘advertiser friendly’ (and therefore suitable to make money from) or not is made using a mixture of algorithms, human judgement and viewers ‘flagging’ videos for ‘controversial’ content. All of these methods still come down to the platform’s policies: changes to which have serious consequences.

Sometimes YouTube tries to disown the decision, as though the algorithms is some kind of monster, outside of their control. But if they are Dr. Frankenstein, they still have to take responsibility for their creation.

According to research by think tank Re:create, “nearly 15 million American #NewCreators earned almost $6 billion from just nine online platforms in 2016.”

Millions of people making a living from videos hosted on the platform, but with none of the recognisable trappings (or legal status) of an employee. It is therefore no trivial thing to change who can have an income from YouTube. In fact many of these creators go on to employ people themselves, producers, film crew, project managers etc. However, YouTube decides the rates for the creators’ work, how it can be promoted and who will see it — and ultimately what can be paid for at all. When YouTube mass demonetises huge swathes of videos for one creator, it essentially ‘fires’ that person, with no oversight, recompense or redundancy package.

There is a very imbalanced power dynamic operating here. When it comes to this story, YouTube have already responded to monetise again some of Chase’s videos thanks to the social media outcry. A very successful creator might have a line to a human being, or perhaps a line to a really famous youtuber like Hank Green, who can then get in touch with a human to discuss these problems.

Those without that klout are stuck at the mercy of YouTube’s automation. This is a ridiculous system for a worker to be in, having to go through an entire social media campaign, come up with a catchy hashtag, in order to get paid again.

It is ironic at this time of year to declare that queer people are not “advertiser friendly.” It’s Pride Month. Many brands are using this as an opportunity to wave a rainbow flag. Check out the sponsors for Pride in London: Barclays, Starbucks, Amazon Music, Playstation, etc. Major brands like Coke and Microsoft produce their own Pride t-shirts, and even McCain chips include queer families in their marketing now.

Not everyone loves this, but rainbow-wasing aside, it certainly demonstrates that YouTube’s definition of what brands consider ‘friendly’ or ‘controversial’ is off the mark. If there are brands who support queer people, those brands adverts should be in front of the appropriate videos. Why not create a little more choice and control so that queer creators can also make an income? There’s a conservative judgement about who has purchasing power, but trust me, queer people shop too.

YouTube’s Age restriction is also ‘punishing’ queer creators, by flagging them as adult content, not watchable on teen accounts. Yet young people are literally the target audience for sex education vids, which many of these creators produce.

Chase’s Trans 101 series has been cited as a life-changing resource. Furthermore, whether demonetised or age restricted, the content that is being impacted isn’t all even ‘sex education’: it’s life stories. YouTube is saying their existence is inappropriate when it made the call that tags like ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ on a video means restrictions must apply — whether that’s removing ads or locking access for some viewers. It is also a form of censorship. Many creators will just decide that it is not worth their effort to make content that relates to their sexuality if they know it will just be restricted.

Whilst this controversy goes on, these same queer creators are now facing anti-LGBT+ adverts playing before their videos. Because if you put the money in and pay for the eyeballs, you get all the control it seems.

The amazing thing about YouTube, about online creativity, is how it has allowed marginalised people to have careers and a voice that was never possible before. But YouTube needs to use Pride month to be transparent and clear about why some people are finding their livlihoods at risk right now — and to end the trans and queerphobia in these algorithms.

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Digital Rights Campaigner | Interested in all things tech + inclusion | Co-host of The Intersection of Things podcast |