Four black content creators have sued YouTube for allegedly engaging in race-based discrimination by restricting and de-monetizing videos that carry titles or tags like “black lives matter,” “racism,” and “white supremacy.”
In a class-action complaint filed last week in federal court in San Jose, YouTube users Kimberly Carleste Newman, Lisa Cabrera, Catherine Jones, and Denotra Nicole Lewis allege that the company uses artificial intelligence, algorithms and other filtering tools “to limit or prevent revenue generation from videos” based on racial identity or viewpoint.
Google's YouTube “knowingly used and continue to use discriminatory content filtering review tools and procedures that 'target' plaintiffs and other persons similarly situated, for access restrictions because they are African American, persons of color, or are identified by defendants as having an ethnicity or other personal immutable traits and/or viewpoints, not because the actual video content or material violates YouTube’s purportedly neutral content rules,” the lawsuit alleges.
Newman and the other plaintiffs are not the first to accuse Google of viewpoint discrimination.
For example, Prager University sued YouTube for allegedly violating the First Amendment by de-monetizing and restricting access to conservative clips.
In that matter, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that Google is not bound by the First Amendment's prohibition against censorship, because the First Amendment only applies to government entities and not private companies like YouTube.
But Prager's complaint, unlike the one filed last week, did not also accuse Google of violating federal laws that prohibit race-based discrimination.
The new class-action complaint comes as web companies' content practices are under increased scrutiny.
Last month, President Trump issued an executive order that aims to task the Federal Communications Commission with developing regulations to link web companies' legal protections to their content moderation policies.
For years, Trump and conservative voices have accused tech companies of attempting to squelch right-wing views -- despite a lack of empirical evidence that companies treat speech by conservatives differently than speech by liberals.
New York Law School professor Ari Waldman, who has studied the issue, told lawmakers in 2018 that web companies don't appear to be suppressing speech based on political views.
"Lots of content gets filtered out, but no more so from the right than from the left," Waldman testified to Congress.
"When victims of racist, homophobic, and sexist tweets and comments post those comments to call out the aggressors, it is often the victims that are suspended or banned," he stated. "Activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have reported just as many if not more take downs of images discussing racism and police brutality than any of the anecdotal evidence of suspensions or take downs on the right."