YouTube should amplify voices of LGBTQ minoritiesBy Michael Dawson | 11/05/2017 10:13pm
Success for YouTube, its content-makers and its viewers, has always relied on algorithms, the invisible math that guides relevant content matches whenever you search for a video. And as advanced and effective as such programming can be, it is not without its steep drawbacks – particularly for the LGBTQ+ community.
It started back in March of 2017 when many companies and brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi started pulling their marketing off YouTube because their ads were appearing in discriminatory videos featuring extremely racist, sexist or homophobic content. To counter this, YouTube started blacklisting videos that contain any references to controversial topics, like race and gender. The unfortunate drawback to this is that it doesn't discriminate between hate videos made by nazis and awareness videos made by social activists.
That created a system where there exist substantial restrictions on YouTube in terms of what videos can receive monetization, or money from advertisements and sponsors. For example, YouTube's guidelines for determining advertiser-friendly videos are listed as those that do not contain strong profanity, hate speech, drugs or substances, non-family-friendly portrayal of popular fictional characters, sexually suggestive content, violence and sensitive subjects, topics or tragedy. The last part, "sensitive subjects or topics," is broad and includes a wide range of topics, such as war, terrorism, sexuality, racism or prejudice. Even if your video is documentary or news in nature, the mere mention of any of these things means that you cannot make money off of your content.
Here's where it gets complicated. Let's say you want to make a video that deals with a sensitive subject which, for this argument, will be gender-neutral bathrooms. This video isn't inflammatory in nature at all and solely exists to highlight an important issue, but by YouTube standards it's controversial. Therefore, that video will not receive any kind of monetization at all. It even affects smaller, non-political videos, like video game Let's Plays. YouTubers who record themselves playing games with LGBTQ+ characters in it, such as popular game series Life is Strange, cannot mention LGBTQ+ related material at all in the title nor in the video, else it cannot be monetized. Let’s Play channel Geek Remix talks about the YouTube blacklist in a video, pointing out how it unfairly targets LGBTQ+ content.
You might be asking why it's so important that YouTube creators receive money for their content. After all, isn't it just a small hobby, anyway? That may have been the case for YouTube during its inception, but over the course of a decade it has grown into a platform where artists and personalities can make a living. The format of video is one of the most effective tools for spreading social justice. However, it cannot happen if the algorithms don't favor that content. Demonetized videos are much less likely to show up as relevant content in searches, given the nature of the algorithms, as well as YouTube's own stance against content not considered family-friendly.
Content creators who do not receive money from making videos that take lots of time and effort to produce are much less likely to create it – especially if the hard work isn't rewarded in terms of views and search relevancy. Youtube is essentially making its platform very unfriendly towards the LGBTQ+ and minority groups.
Words like "lesbian," "gay," "racism" and many more are blacklisted. Any videos containing these words in the title or tags will not receive monetization. On the other end of the spectrum however, words like "heterosexuality" are yet to be banned. The result is that the world's premiere and most popular video sharing website only caters to straight cis-gendered white men.
It's important to address this issue, even if you don't care about YouTube at all, because it is another large example of the ways in which the LGBTQ+ community, minorities and women are punished by society through nonchalant policies for 'the greater good'. YouTube may not always showcase the best of humanity, but it does include a community of young content-creators actively trying to make their voice on social issues heard. And it is our responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary platforms to spread awareness as they see fit.
Michael Dawson is a senior majoring in English. His column runs biweekly.