Trans YouTubers Say They Are Being Censored. Is It The Algorithm?
LGBTQ YouTubers have recently been posting screenshots on social media of their videos getting demonetized or put in restricted mode, ultimately controlling what their followers can watch.
Youth Radio’s Malia Disney talked with Stef Sanjati, a transgender content creator on YouTube with 600k subscribers, about these restrictions are having on her channel and the message YouTube is sending when LGBTQ videos are being flagged as “inappropriate.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Youth Radio: Many trans creators on YouTube tend to get flagged and demonetized when you have ‘transgender’ in the title or in the tags. Have you experienced that issue?
Stef Sanjati: I have. It’s not every single time. But it’s fairly often. I tend to experience demonetization for things that cisgender people typically wouldn’t. So, for example, I just uploaded a video a couple of days ago about a surgery that I had. In the thumbnail I was wearing the same thing as a bathing suit. It wasn’t revealing or explicit. There was nothing sexual about the video in nature or in the thumbnail–nothing that would be considered inappropriate. Other than it deals with surgery, which can be jarring or intense. That video got demonetized before it even went live. I know that if I didn’t tag it ‘transgender’ and it was just any other cis-girl talking about a procedure she had, it probably wouldn’t have gotten demonetized.
YR: How often do you post videos and what percentage of them get flagged?
SS: I post roughly twice a week. I would say at least 20 percent of my videos are hidden in restricted mode, which it’s different from demonetized. I would say probably one of every 10 of my videos is demonetized. I don’t have it that bad. A lot of other channels that are more specifically about sex ed get demonetized a lot more than I do.
YR: What is restricted mode?
SS: Restricted mode is different from demonetization. Restricted mode is basically considered to be child-friendly mode. Meaning, they cannot be watched if you’re not logged in. What happens is, most if not all videos discussing transitioning or sexuality, other than heterosexual sexuality, tend to get hidden in restricted mode. This implies they are inappropriate and that LGBT people are inherently inappropriate, which is not the case.
YR: Can talk about how much it affects you financially when your videos are demonetized?
SS: The bulk of my income is from sponsored content, and it’s not from ad revenue checks. I have noticed the ad revenue has been cut in half from what it used to be. So for me to experience 50 percent of what I used to get from that ad revenue just because I have an LGBT channel, it’s pretty alarming. If I was a smaller creator and I didn’t have those sponsorships I would absolutely not be able to afford to pay rent.
YR: Can you describe a video of yours that was demonetized?
SS: I posted a video back in October called “We need to talk about eating disorders.” It had nothing inappropriate, nothing super jarring. It says “eating disorder” or “bulimia,” and that got demonetized almost immediately. The thumbnail is an image of my face looking kind of sad, I guess, and it says “bulimia and me” in the text, but nothing that encourages this behavior. There’s nothing sexual, nothing inappropriate, nothing saying you should try an eating disorder because that’s of course not my viewpoint.
Once a video has been demonetized you can request a manual review, so a person double checks the video. I did this for almost every single video that I had demonetized. If the person finds that the video is not suitable for advertisers, there is nothing you could do.
YR: Is getting demonetized or restricting videos getting more common on YouTube?
SS: It definitely started last year. I think it started basically with Google, which owns YouTube. They have a computerized algorithm that learned to identify videos that might be inappropriate and it will flag them before they are seen by people. Somewhere along the line, it learned that LGBT videos were inappropriate. I don’t know when that happened or how it happened, but ultimately it’s flawed technology and that’s definitely Google’s responsibility to fix that. Google never really gave a clear explanation other than it’s a “self-learning algorithm” and it made a mistake. But there’s been no clarification of whether or not it’s been fixed and they haven’t really been very communicative with their creators on the platform. I’m still experiencing demonetization on videos that discuss sexuality.