YouTube: LGBT video-makers sue claiming discrimination

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YouTubers Amp Somers, Chrissy Chambers and Chase Ross
Image copyrightYOUTUBE
YouTubers Amp Somers, Chrissy Chambers and Chase Ross are suing YouTube

A group of YouTube video-makers is suing it and parent company Google, claiming both discriminate against LGBT-themed videos and their creators.

The group claims YouTube restricts advertising on LGBT videos and limits their reach and discoverability.

But YouTube said sexual orientation and gender identity played no role in deciding whether videos could earn ad revenue or appear in search results.

A group is hoping a jury will hear its case in California.

The legal action makes a wide range of claims, including that YouTube:

  • removes advertising from videos featuring “trigger words” such as “gay” or “lesbian”
  • often labels LGBT-themed videos as “sensitive” or “mature” and restricts them from appearing in search results or recommendations
  • does not do enough to filter harassment and hate speech in the comments section

It was filed by a group of video-makers from the US, including:

  • singer Bria Kam and actor Chrissy Chambers, who run a joint YouTube channel with more than 850,000 subscribers
  • Amp Somers, who produces sex education videos
  • Chase Ross, who documents his experiences as a transgender man
  • Lindsay Amer, who produces LGBT-themed educational videos

The legal action also claims Google refused to let the creators of a show called GNews! advertise their programme, because it contained “shocking” content.

In a phone call heard by BBC News, one Google ad representative told the programme’s producers that “sexuality content about the gays” broke its advertising rules.

Advertiser-friendly

YouTube said it did not discriminate against LGBT video-makers.

“Our policies have no notion of sexual orientation or gender identity and our systems do not restrict or demonetise videos based on these factors or the inclusion of terms like ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’,” spokesman Alex 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.”

YouTube said it had removed 220 million comments in the first three months of 2019, 99% of which had been detected automatically.

And it had removed more than 3,000 channels for publishing hate speech.

YouTube’s advertiser-friendly content guidelines  do not prohibit the discussion of LGBT themes.

However, videos discussing sexual experiences, sex toys and devices, and fetishes are not allowed to carry ads.

The company accepted its automated systems did make mistakes when deciding whether to exclude a video from advertising but said video-makers could appeal against automated decisions.

In the past, YouTube has not always explained exactly why specific videos have been excluded from advertising or flagged as “unsuitable for all audiences”.

The lack of specific information has frustrated video-makers from all walks of life. The phenomenon was even given a nickname: the ad-pocalypse.

YouTube says it does not discriminate against LGBT themes, and it is easy to find popular LGBT channels on YouTube that do carry advertisements.

However, YouTube’s ad-placement and content moderation decisions are mostly made by algorithms, which can struggle with the intricacies and nuance of human life.

YouTube does not place ads on videos about sex toys, as per its policies. But can its algorithms tell the difference between a “marital aid” and a prosthetic penis designed for a transgender man?

How accurately can its machines distinguish between sexual content and sexuality content?

Micro Focus building
Image copyrightBRET FITZGERALD

Shares in software giant Micro Focus International fell as much as 30% after it said sales would be worse this year than expected.

The FTSE 100-listed firm had already warned in March revenue would be 4% to 6% lower for the year to 31 October.

It now says sales will be 6% to 8% below last year’s because of the “deteriorating macro-environment”.

The company, which bought Hewlett Packard’s software business in 2017, is the largest UK-based tech firm.

The economic climate had resulted in “more conservatism and longer decision-making cycles” within the firm’s customer base, Micro Focus said.

The Newbury firm, which sells software and consultancy services globally, has struggled to integrate the much larger US-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which it bought for £6.8bn ($8.8bn) two years ago.

Micro Focus will accelerate a strategic review of the group’s operations as a result of the worsening expectations, chief executive Stephen Murdoch said.

The aim now would be to determine “where performance can be improved and how the business can be better positioned to optimise shareholder value”, he said.

Mr Murdoch took over as chief executive in March last year. The firm’s previous chief executive departed after acknowledging the merger was proving more difficult than anticipated.

“The words ‘strategic review’ rarely spell good news for investors, so it wasn’t surprising to see the shares respond with a drop of 30% in early trading,” commented Ian Forrest, investment research analyst at The Share Centre.

“[Hewlett Packard Enterprise] was not directly mentioned today, but it may well be part of the issue, as the company said in July the integration process was proving ‘complex and significant’.”

Traffic backs up at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza along Interstate 80 on 25 July 2019 in Oakland, California
California accounts for a large chunk of US vehicle sales

Four major carmakers have struck a deal with California on fuel efficiency rules, despite an attempt by the Trump administration to strip the state of the right to set its own standards to fight climate change.

California negotiated with Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW in secret.

Along with a dozen other US states, it has vowed to enforce stricter Obama-era emissions standards.

President Trump wants to roll back federal rules on car emissions.

Last year, his administration proposed a rule to axe tougher mileage and greenhouse gas emissions requirements enacted by his predecessor.

It also proposed revoking California’s right to impose state emissions standards or require more electric vehicles.

The White House has said “the federal government, not a single state, should set this standard. We are moving forward to finalise a rule for the benefit of all Americans”.

 

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the agreement on Thursday. “California, a coalition of states, and these automakers are leading the way on smart policies that make the air cleaner and safer for us all,” he said.

“I now call on the rest of the auto industry to join us, and for the Trump administration to adopt this pragmatic compromise instead of pursuing its regressive rule change. It’s the right thing for our economy, our people and our planet.”

California accounts for about 12% of US vehicle sales, and if the federal administration recognises the deal, it would allow carmakers to operate under one set of rules across the country.

“These terms will provide regulatory stability, preserve vehicle affordability for customers, reduce compliance costs and result in increased environmental benefits,” the manufacturers said in a statement.

Climate change: How 1.5C could change the world

The California agreement, which is voluntary, is slightly less restrictive than the Obama standards and can apply to vehicles sold nationwide.

Under the framework, by 2026, new models would meet a standard of 50 miles per US gallon (4.7 litres per 100km), against the current 37 mpg level.

Increased fuel efficiency means vehicles burn less petrol and emit fewer polluting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Last year, the Trump administration proposed revoking California’s right to impose state emissions standards or require more electric vehicles.