A group of black YouTube creators filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming the platform had been systematically removing its content without explanation.
The suit, filed in Northern California federal court, outlines alleged racial discrimination against four creators who post videos on YouTube to earn advertising revenue.
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The complaint is the latest in a series of claims that YouTube’s program, which can automatically delete videos accused of violating the company’s policies, discriminates against specific individuals, including LGBT+ groups. It comes during a national, racial discrimination reckoning in which companies like Google have promised to push for change.
According to the complaint, YouTube uses its “total and ‘unfettered’ influence over access to nearly 95% of all video material accessible to the public to dominate the game by using its authority to limit and exclude claimants and other like-minded rivals based on ethnic origin or benefit discrimination.”
YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said the organization is investigating the complaint, The Washington Post reported. He said the automated systems in the company are not discriminating based on race. “We’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to build our systems and enforce our policies in a neutral, consistent way,” he wrote.
In the past, YouTube has denied that its software discriminates against individuals, and it has said that the law supports its algorithmic approach to content moderation.
Catherine Jones, the creator of the YouTube channel Carmen CaBoom, said the platform had the channel removed for nudity. However, the lawsuit said none of her videos did contain nudity. Other videos created by Jones were deleted due to suspected hate speech. However, the suit claims the allegations are untrue.
The complaint said 17 videos have been deleted or archived from Nicole Lewis for unexplained reasons. Her Nicole’s View channel receives $6,000 to $7,000 per annum, The Independent reported.
Kimberly Carleste Newman said 700 or more videos have vanished from her site, The True Royal Family. She said she doesn’t know why or how to get them back, the complaint says. Lisa Cabrera says that her 4,423 videos generated 20 million views, but according to the suit, 68 were removed without any explanation.
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YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki shot down the allegations during a live event in the Washington Post on Thursday, June 18. “It’s not like our systems understand race or any of those different demographics,” she explained.
However, Wojcicki clarified the fairness of the machine learning algorithms is an industry-wide “huge area of work.” She said YouTube always wants to make sure their machines have not learned something by accident.
“If we ever find that it did, then we will retrain our machines to make sure that they now have the right, that whatever that issue was has been removed from the training set of our machines,” Wojcicki said.
In response to the suit filed by LGBT YouTube creators last summer, YouTube said that its algorithms do not discriminate against people for their gender or race. That suit is ongoing.
The suit filed Tuesday cites a sworn statement by another founder of YouTube. Stephanie Frosch claimed officials of YouTube told her in 2017 that the algorithms of content management of the organization discriminate based on race.
Frosch is a plaintiff in the suit that was filed last year. In the statement, Frosch says she was invited to discuss alleged discrimination at the headquarters of YouTube in September 2017.
Frosch is a plaintiff in the suit that was filed last year. In the statement, Frosch says she was invited to discuss alleged discrimination at the headquarters of YouTube in September 2017. After asking Frosch to sign a nondisclosure agreement, representatives from YouTube told Frosch that, among other features, she wrote, the company’s algorithms categorize creators based on their race.
Frosch claimed she was told the information is used “when filtering and curating content and restricting access to YouTube services.”
“The result is that the algorithm discriminates based on the identity of the creator or its intended audience when making what are supposed to be neutral content-based regulations and restrictions for videos that run on YouTube,” company officials told her, according to the declaration.
However, Shadloo, the YouTube spokesman, clarified the social media platform’s automated systems are “not designed” to identify the race, ethnicity, or gender orientation of the creators and viewers. The spokesperson added YouTube’s policies are global and are “enforced by a global team.”