OutCasting Overtime: Transgender content on Youtube

DHRUV: This is OutCasting Overtime, a special feature from OutCasting, public radios LGBTQ youth program. Hi, Im Dhruv, a youth participant in OutCastings main studio in Westchester County, New York. For this edition, Lucas and I considered Youtubes demonetization of videos with transgender content and its algorithms that contribute to fewer views and the potential pairing of anti-LGBTQ ads on these videos.

LUCAS: Youtube has gone from another entertainment platform to a central part of our everyday online lives. If you want to watch videos, you do it on Youtube. If you want to make videos and potentially have them seen by a large audience, you put them on Youtube. If you want to express your ideas in an open forum, you go to Youtube. Youtube is essentially the default for user-made videos, and therefore it has immense power over what we see and how we see it.

According to Google, Youtubes parent company, Youtube tags videos based on different keywords in the title and description of the video. The tagging algorithm determines how frequently videos will appear in searches and what ads will run on them. For example, if your video is about growing apples, it may be tagged as agriculture, which doesnt get flagged by Youtube for any kind of negative content. And logically, it could also pair the video with ads related to agriculture.

But Youtube tags videos with certain trigger words that signal that the video is not suitable for advertisers. This includes references to transgender content, and this has caused a recent uproar among LGBTQ Youtube users. This means that videos containing words like these will likely not generate any money, thus demonetizing videos with transgender content.

On top of that, Youtubers have flagged Youtubes search algorithm for being biased against transgender videos and producers. Youtube receives less money from the transgender videos, and so it lists these videos lower in search outputs. These videos therefore continue to receive fewer views, making them less marketable. This results in fewer transgender Youtubers being willing to produce videos for no money, which of course can lead to less transgender content on Youtube. These creators are effectively being silenced, and their ideas are not being discussed in the same open-minded manner as other content on Youtube.

Some may argue that as a business corporation, Youtubes main purpose is to turn a profit for its shareholders. But because of its dominance in the marketplace of ideas, it has a responsibility, which it acknowledges in its policy, to provide a platform to free expression.

Adding to the problem, some major anti-LGBTQ organizations buy up ads to run on videos with these tags specifically to dilute the impact of pro-transgender content. A prime example is the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This anti-LGBTQ targeting contradicts YouTubes anti-hate policy, and yet Youtube allows it to continue. A spokesperson for YouTube claimed, We have policies against ads on YouTube that incite hatred or promote discrimination, and all ads that run on the platform have to comply with these policies. Even when an ad does not violate our policies, we understand that creators may not want ads from certain advertisers appearing on their videos. So aside from making transgender content harder to find and less financially lucrative, Youtube also violates its own anti-hate policy by allowing advertising from anti-LGBTQ groups.

Youtubes actions have driven a wedge between transgender content contributors and the roughly 1.8 billion viewers who use Youtube. This has started to mark transgender contributors as different from the hundreds of millions of now normal contributors. It has also set a precedent allowing transgender media and voices to be sidelined and kept as a separate category.

Youtube says it has reworked its algorithm, but creators of transgender content continue to be outraged and sidelined. This goes entirely against the official message of Youtube, that it want everyone to have a voice and that contributors should be able to choose the ads on their programs. However, the transgender producers have no choice: either they run anti transgender ads or they dont receive any money from their work and their video ends up at the bottom of peoples searches.

We know from conversations we've had here at OutCasting that LGBTQ youth often turn to social media to discover a word that gives them an identity and helps connect them to a community. This is particularly true with transgender youth; after years of confusion about their gender identity, they talk about this as a light bulb going off in their head -- "Hey, that's what I am -- transgender! It's amazing to finally have a word. There must be other people like me." It's a very powerful and life-changing moment. But if Youtube suppresses this content, it can deprive young people of this critical knowledge.

And the situation is exacerbated by the presence on these videos of pre-roll ads from ADF and other anti-LGBTQ groups. Imagine that you're a vulnerable, troubled young teenager who has always felt different but has never known exactly why. You find something on social media, you have that light-bulb moment, and everything finally comes into focus. But you're still tentative and maybe a bit fragile.

Then you go to Youtube and search for videos that talk about being transgender. Under Youtube's tagging policies, finding that video is harder, and when you do find it, expecting to see something good, something that affirms what little you know about being trans, you're actually bombarded with an anti-LGBTQ ad before you even get to the content you want. Maybe the ad terrifies you and you turn it off before you even get to the video you wanted to watch. Is it really that hard to figure out that that's exactly what ADF wants?

Depriving youth of information that can help them can lead to horrible outcomes. And it's unconscionable for Youtube to suppress this content when it can help so many young people at a vulnerable and fragile point in their lives.

Youtubes hypocritical stance is shutting out the voices that need to be heard, and this needs to stop.

DHRUV: Thanks for listening to OutCasting Overtime, a special feature from OutCasting, public radios LGBTQ youth program. OutCasting Overtime is a production of Media for the Public Good, a nonprofit organization. Our assistant producer is Josh Valle and our executive producer is Marc Sophos. Visit us at outcastingmedia.org to get information about OutCasting, watch OutCasting videos, access our social media links, and listen to OutCasting and OutCasting Overtime.

Thanks... and thanks for listening.


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