Restriction Mode: How YouTube is Leaving its LGBTQ Audience Behind
By Jill Fredenburg
Imagine your favorite Beauty YouTuber stating that he can no longer post weekly videos because he needs to spend more time at his day job. Or your star Pet YouTuber significantly abandoning her educational animal videos in favor of posting solely to her Patreon channel. Worse, your ride-or-die cleaning content videos just aren’t showing up.
For fans of LGBTQ video creators on YouTube, a wildly popular video-sharing platform owned by Google, these ruminations are reality. So much so, in fact, that a group of content creators are finally suing the platform (Bensinger).
This group is asserting what many people have complained about in vlogs (video blogs) for years, that YouTube is discriminating by suppressing LGBTQ content, restricting the ability of its producers to sell advertising, and of preventing people under 18 years of age from accessing non-sexual, educational LGBTQ-themed videos.
The suit is brave and has garnered lots of online support. YouTube is most people’s search engine, second only to its parent company, Google. With nearly 2 billion monthly viewers, the platform was bound to overlook an algorithm or create flaws. The issue is that despite complaints being sent to the site in droves, YouTube still seems to enforce its policies unevenly, allowing hate speech from large, homophobic creators, while videos showing Transgender experiences are simply getting flagged for demonitization (meaning no ads can be shown with the video) immediately upon upload.
The suit by five LGBT creators, filed in federal court in San Jose, states that YouTube deploys “unlawful content regulation, distribution, and monetization practices that stigmatize, restrict, block, demonetize, and financially harm the LGBT Plaintiffs and the greater LGBT Community.”
YouTube and its actions directly impact creators. As one of the most democratic, accessible sources for LGBTQ educational content, young audiences often depend on the platform for community, support, and language. In this way, YouTube’s unwillingness to admit fault and actively work on a solution is also negatively affecting its LGBTQ audience.
It can often be useful to put big, weighty stories like this into perspective through the existence of specific, meaningful stories. I learned about this problem when many of my treasured LGBTQ YouTubers started complaining about the “ADpocolapse” and YouTube’s “Restriction Mode.” To try to get a better understanding of this issue, I interviewed two Gender Non-Binary friends of mine, both of whom cited YouTube as a huge part of both their initial and continued Queer education.
In the film, Gabriel Reséndez (@neutralwolf on most platforms) and Kash Aboud (@kashme.outside) verbalize the importance of representative content on the platform for both creators and consumers.
Both of these people were able to find visual assertions that their experiences were not unworthy of celebration and discussion. We all want to see people like us online, it’s a huge part of why the Internet has thrived for more than just commercial businesses and pure academic sites.
In the suit, LGBT creators allege that YouTube’s software algorithms and human reviewers remove content that features words such as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender,” causing the creators to lose valuable advertising revenue. In the film, Gabriel discusses how the Neutral Wolf channel used to pay enough to fund equipment and a pricey Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Now, with the ADpocolapse changes, the videos are able to occasionally buy Gabriel a cup of coffee.
Also according to the suit, Google has consistently used “monopoly power over content regulation to selectively apply their rules and restrictions in a manner that allowed them to gain an unfair advantage to profit from their own content to the detriment of its consumers.”
Hate speech lives (the platform failed to act against a popular video creator who repeatedly mocked a journalist for being both openly gay and of Mexican descent), while LGBTQ+ channels have to seek other revenue streams to survive.
My aim in making this film was to put pressure on the platform to return to its former “glory,” While I cannot pretend the platform was ever truly accessible to everyone (those with the best equipment and resources do tend to outperform others), I know how important it was to me to see myself reflected in the Bi/Pan/Queer channels to which I subscribed. In a time when it is still dangerous in many households to try to learn more about what it means to be LGBTQ+, YouTube continues to have an important role to play. Let’s hope it acts as an ally one again.
Bensinger, Greg and Reed Albergotti. (2019, August 14). “YouTube discriminates against LGBT content by unfairly culling it, the suit alleges.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from