LGBTQ+ group sue YouTube for algorithm discrimination

YouTube Algorithm AI

YouTube is facing a class-action lawsuit, filed by members of the Rainbow Coalition, an LGBTQ+ community representing content creators on Google’s video-sharing platform

In March 2017, YouTubers from the LGBTQ+ community began to notice that something wasn’t quite right on the platform. Collectively, they noticed that their videos were constantly and consistently age-restricted, demonetised or removed entirely. 

It wasn’t new, the community had experienced it before, albeit to a lesser extent, but this time it seemed to be happening with greater frequency.

Is YouTube's AI algorithm discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community?
Tweets from uppercaseCHASE1 displaying algorithm bias / Credit: Chase Ross

The content creators believed that the site’s algorithm was triggered by certain words, topics and imagery. YouTube responded with a blog post addressing the issue.

“Our system sometimes makes mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode,” said Johanna Wright, VP of Product Management. 

“While the system will never be 100 percent perfect…we must and will do a better job.”

Now, over a year later, the problem still persists. After the public outcry, YouTube claimed to have addressed the issue, however, content is still being blocked, restricted or demonetised. This has left the LGBTQ+ community on YouTube feeling disenfranchised and discriminated against. 

Can an algorithm show bias?

In a video posted by the Rainbow Coalition, Chase Ross said: “I’m fed up of the discrimination that we’re getting in the LGBTQ+ community…things need to change, the algorithm needs to change.” 

The YouTuber, who creates content under the name uppercaseCHASE1, has partnered with other creators to file the class-action lawsuit. Together, they released a video explaining their reasoning.

Speaking at CES last year, YouTube’s CPO Neal Mohan revealed that users spend 70% of their time on YouTube watching what the algorithm recommends. 

These AI-driven decisions personalise content. Users watch billions of hours of video every day, lured in by recommended content based on previous visits, or information gleaned from Google’s myriad services.

YouTube openly admit to favouring content in order to increase time on site, and thus their bottom line, but the Rainbow Coalition believes that in doing so, YouTube is discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community with biased algorithms. YouTube has not yet commented on the lawsuit. 

Luke Conrad

Technology & Marketing Enthusiast