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YouTube denies it targets LGBTQ content.

Transgender YouTuber Chase Ross regularly uses his channel to talk about his gender identity and queer sexuality. Some of his most popular videos feature helpful information on the basics of transitioning, like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), acquiring an affordable packer (aka padding for your pants), or learning how to properly bind your chest.

But on Wednesday, Ross ran into a problem. His latest video, a five-year comparison of his emotional state from before and after top surgery, faced repeated demonetization from YouTube. Ross believes it’s because he used the word “transgender” in the video’s title.

“I uploaded my video TWICE to see if the word ‘transgender’ would trigger the algorithm… and every step of the way was fine UNTIL I added the word Transgender,” Ross tweeted on Wednesday. “RIGHT away, the video was demonetized. Literally. RIGHT. AWAY.”

This isn’t the first time his videos were demonetized by YouTube, either, Ross told his Twitter followers. In early October, Ross found that when he added the word “trans” into two videos, they were immediately restricted and labeled as “not suitable for most advertisers.” Leaving out the word “trans” from his videos, meanwhile, did not lead to demonetization.

“Tell me again how trans people aren’t targetted [sic] by YouTube,” Ross tweeted in October. “Both videos were restricted, so I deleted them, changed the file and title name.”

https://twitter.com/ChaseRoss/status/917122952176467969

https://twitter.com/ChaseRoss/status/1002389153626099712

YouTube’s customer support account subsequently reached out to Ross about his latest video, saying that the company “reviewed” the clip and that it “should now be monetizing.” But late Wednesday night, Ross said on Twitter that three videos in total were demonetized, including a video that had a picture of packers he was giving away. He also explained to his followers how demonetization impacts his total revenue, leading him to make significantly less money as a result.

“Let me give you an idea of what a demonetized video does. This is one of my most popular videos—yet it’s demonetized,” Ross explained in a tweet, showing that a video with over 200,000 views only collected $1.15 in revenue. “This means it’s not ad friendly and there are barely any ads on it.”

Ross told the Daily Dot that last year over 150 of his videos lost monetization “for no reason.” In one case, Ross says a daily transgender 101 series he created in August was impacted in its near entirety, with YouTube only approving one video for monetization. Most demonetized videos either reference the word “trans” or “transgender,” deal with a sex-related topic, or feature a prosthetic like a packer, he said.

“I have no idea why they are all demonetized, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they all have ‘trans’ in the title,” Ross said. “That could be contributing to it, I don’t know.”

Ross confirmed that at the very least, YouTube approved his five-year post-op comparison video for monetization about 40 hours after he posted the final version. But he pointed out that the appeal process itself was a nuisance, since the first few hours after a video goes live play an important role in collecting ad revenue.

“But I’m so glad they fixed it and that it is seen as ad-friendly now,” Ross said. “That makes me feel seen by YouTube and cared about a little.”

In a statement obtained by the Daily Dot, a YouTube spokesperson stressed that the website uses machine learning to judge content for ad revenue and that users should appeal demonetization if they feel their video has been incorrectly affected.

“We do not have a list of LGBTQ-related words that trigger demonetization and we are constantly evaluating our systems to ensure they are enforcing our policies without any bias,” a YouTube spokesperson told the Daily Dot. “We use machine learning to evaluate content against our advertiser guidelines. Sometimes our systems get it wrong, which is why we’ve encouraged creators to appeal. Successful appeals ensure that our systems to [sic] get better and better.”

Ross stressed that he doesn’t think YouTube is necessarily transphobic, but that the website’s machine learning systems may have programming issues or require a tune-up.

“I don’t think YouTube wants to silence our voices,” Ross said. “I think that there isn’t enough attention paid on these mistakes that have been happening for months. There needs to be something re-coded and something done to ensure that LGBTQ+ creators are respected and treated like everyone else.”

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What Chase is stressing is a much larger issue that’s long plagued YouTube’s monetization standards. In 2016, YouTube ushered in a new policy that made demonetization much more transparent after the platform had been increasingly demonetizing videos since 2012 in an attempt to appease advertisers’ concerns over ad placements.

To carry out that goal, YouTube introduced algorithms that targeted video metadata in order to meet its advertiser-friendly guidelines. But YouTube’s LGBTQ content creators have since criticized the site’s policies, pointing out that the service was blocking LGBTQ videos under Restricted Mode until YouTube noted the “issue that was incorrectly filtering videos” and fixed the problem. Others claim after YouTube tweaked its algorithms to catch content that focuses on “sensitive topics or events” and demonetize it, queer creators faced extensive demonetization against their videos.

“Remember when youtube demonetized my phalloplasty myths video and said it wasn’t appropriate for all ages because of ‘violence,'” Ross tweeted on Wednesday. “Lol ok. Trans bodies are violent? Dysphoria is violent?”

If YouTube isn’t targeting LGBTQ content, its algorithms have a lot of relearning to do.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from YouTuber Chase Ross.

Ana Valens

Ana Valens

Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.