Siding with YouTube, a federal judge has dismissed a class-action complaint by content creators who accuse the company of violating civil rights laws and the First Amendment by allegedly restricting or de-monetizing videos based on racial identity and viewpoint.
The ruling, issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, allows the content creators to beef up their allegations and bring them again within 30 days.
Koh's decision stems from a lawsuit brought last year by YouTube users Kimberly Carleste Newman and other content creators who said the video sharing service wrongly restricted or de-monetized videos with titles like “black lives matter,” “racism,” and “white supremacy.”
The content creators alleged 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.”
They added in an amended complaint filed last year that a Google employee admitted at a September 14, 2017 meeting that YouTube's algorithm “discriminated against certain groups, including LGBTQ+, African American, and other users of color or vulnerable minorities.”
Google denied that an employee made that admission.
Koh said in her ruling that even if the allegations in the amended complaint were true, they wouldn't support the argument that YouTube “intentionally and purposefully discriminated against plaintiffs on the basis of race by intentionally restricting and demonetizing plaintiffs’ videos.”
Newman and the others also pointed to Google's controversial firing last December of Timmit Gebru, who co-led Google's ethical artificial intelligence unit.
The content creators contended that Google fired Gebru because she complained about “bias and blocking tools,” and argued that Google's move demonstrates it discriminates against YouTube creators based on racial identity.
Koh said that she couldn't rely on that allegation for procedural reasons, given that it only came up in the arguments and not in the complaint itself.
But she added that even aside from the procedural problems, the allegation regarding Gebru “would be insufficient to support an inference that defendants intentionally and purposefully discriminated against plaintiffs because of race.”
Koh added that she “has no basis to know what form of racial bias Gebru allegedly complained of, and if that biased had any discriminatory effect on plaintiffs.”
Koh also rejected the content creators' other claims, including that their First Amendment rights were violated by YouTube.
She noted in her ruling that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals already said Google isn't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition against censorship because the First Amendment only applies to government entities, not private companies like YouTube.