Google and YouTube face a class action discrimination lawsuit after allegedly denying equal access to services based on users’ racial and sexual identities. The plaintiffs accused Google and YouTube of systematically filtering out content from creators based on their personal identities and viewpoints. The case filed Tuesday is being held in the Northern District of California before Magistrate Judge Virginia K. DeMarchi.
Plaintiffs Kimberly Carleste Newman, Lisa Cabrera, Catherine Jones, and Denotra Nicole Lewis are YouTube content creators and identify as African American women. They each operate separate YouTube channels, posting videos “that discuss and present information regarding issues and current events which are important to the African American community.” Their channels have collectively garnered millions of views and have generated thousands of dollars in revenue since creation. The plaintiffs alleged that they have suffered monetarily and have lost viewers because of the defendants’ discriminatory behavior. According to the complaint, there are at least 42 million members of the putative class, which consists of those similarly situated to the plaintiffs.
The allegedly discriminatory practices conducted by Google include but are not limited to “shadow banning [blocking content in a manner where the user cannot easily tell that they have been banned] entire channels and videos” based on a creator’s race, “misapplying ‘restricted mode’” to videos which discuss important issues to the creators, and “promoting and profiting off of hate speech” by allowing racist videos directed at the plaintiffs. Google and YouTube’s terms of service, which have been merged since December 2019, both prohibit racial discrimination and hate speech. The complaint also noted that although the defendants’ representatives testified under oath in 2018 that YouTube is “a neutral public forum,” its widespread censorship violates freedom of expression.
As a result of Google and YouTube’s alleged discrimination, the plaintiffs seek an award of damages and an injunction requiring the company to “cease and desist from capriciously restricting, demonetizing, or otherwise censoring any content of videos uploaded to the YouTube based on Plaintiffs’ race, or other identity or viewpoint in violation of federal and California law.” The plaintiffs are represented by Browne George Ross.