June is Pride Month, but many LGBT YouTube creators aren’t feeling so joyous amidst a myriad of demonetization and anti-LGBT ad issues.
LGBT content demonetized & age restricted
YouTubers are no stranger to the flaws of the platform’s monetization system, which was updated last year to automatically prevent ads from displaying on content that might not be “advertiser friendly.” The system uses machine learning to determine whether content is suitable for advertisements. A similar system determines which videos should be hidden to the approximately 1.5 percent of users with Restricted Mode turned on – these are often users accessing YouTube from schools, public libraries, and other institutions.
Nearly a year after the company made avowed commitments to fine-tuning the system and ensuring content from LGBT and other identity-based groups are protected, issues still remain. Trans creator Chase Ross claims that he has been dealing with age restriction issues on his videos for the past three weeks, and older videos have been recently demonetized.
In October 2017, Ross tried uploading two videos about his experience as a trans person. Both videos included the word “trans” in the video title and filename, and both were immediately deemed “not suitable for most advertisers.” Ross then deleted the uploads and tried again, using the same exact metadata, except this time removing the word “trans.” He found that his monetization icons were immediately green and ads were being served.
Tell me again how trans people aren't targetted by YouTube.
Both videos were restricted, so I deleted them, changed the file and title name pic.twitter.com/yzsXBjEsHd
— Chase Ross ? (@ChaseRoss) October 8, 2017
After a recent issue where a video of his was deleted for allegedly not abiding by the Community Guidelines, Ross re-evaluated his account, and noticed that a vast majority of his videos were de-monetized without notification. “Every single one of my ‘Trans 101’ videos has been demonetized,” he said. “You’re gonna tell me that trans people aren’t directly attacked?”
In a video about these issues entitled “Worse than Demonetization: Anti-Gay Ads on LGBTQ+ Videos,” Hank Green noted that he is a part of a beta that allows him to tag his videos with potential categories that advertisers might be sensitive to, including content as mundane as current events.
Anti-LGBT ads running on creator content
To make matters worse, a slew of anti-LGBT ads have started running across the platform.
One ad, noticed by an artist named Shannon Taylor, features a florist telling a prospective client she wouldn’t take on his same-sex wedding, and then seeking donations to fight a court case that would “protect her right” to not serve LGBT customers. The ad was created by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, having previously advocated for the sterilization of trans people and the criminalization of homosexuality.
Hey @TeamYouTube do you mind explaining why I’m receiving LITERAL ANTI-LGBT organization advertisements now? (Yep, with a donation link)
I thought the whole point was to keep the site “non-political” & the videos “advertised friendly”.
What even is this garbage? pic.twitter.com/uJLoOjaxrw
— Shannon Taylor (@HeyThereImShan) May 29, 2018
Another advertisement was noticed by Elijah Daniel, one of the platform’s most prominent LGBT creators. The full pre-roll ad video can be viewed here.
I dont know what the fuck is going on at @YouTube but why the FUCK are people telling me that ads of this old fuck telling people being gay is wrong are running on my channel pic.twitter.com/LjhswnljrZ
— LIL PHAG (@elijahdaniel) June 4, 2018
It’s clear that YouTube’s primary interests are in catering to the advertisers, the ones who spend money to get their content in front of viewers. This unfortunately leads to absurdly high standards for creators that want to make money, and very low standards for advertisers that want to spend money.
In his video, Green calls for a minimum action of more control: if advertisers can choose to not run their ads on any content that is remotely controversial, creators should be able to choose to prevent ads from being sold against their content that are remotely controversial.
“Allow me to do the same thing that you are doing for advertisers,” Green said. “Allow me to not take the money of people that I think are intentionally trying to hurt people.”
The options to do so technically already exist, but the process to do so is complicated, and the control categories can be vague. Creators that are a part of a multi-channel network may not have the ability to do so altogether. Instructions for blocking ad categories are available here.
As online video continues to grow and advertisers begin to shift their budgets away from traditional platforms like television, they look for the same control and comfort that buying ad slots against analog programming provided. YouTube wants to seal in these new ad dollars, but in order to keep creators happy, the company needs to strike a balance and find a way to show appreciation to the creators that trust YouTube to house their content and provide their livelihoods.