Tuesday, March 5, 2024

YouTube defeats racial bias lawsuit

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A US federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing YouTube of restricting or removing videos from Black and Hispanic content creators because of their race.

US District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said that although the idea that YouTube’s algorithm could discriminate based on race is plausible, the plaintiffs “do not come close” to suggesting they suffered any discrimination.

The proposed class action on behalf of non-white YouTube users was originally filed in June 2020, less than one month after a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide focus on racial injustice.

Nine plaintiffs said YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, subjected their videos to more restrictions than similar videos from white contributors, violating a contractual obligation under its terms of service to provide race-neutral content moderation.

But the judge said YouTube promised only that its algorithm would not treat people differently based on their identities, not that the algorithm was infallible.

He also said the plaintiffs relied on too small a sample of videos, and some actually hurt their case.

In an example, he said YouTube’s restriction of one plaintiff’s “makeup tutorial” on how to create Donald Trump’s “distinctive look” could reflect the plaintiff’s mentioning the Ku Klux Klan and describing lighter makeup colors as white supremacy colors.

The plaintiff “certainly appears to be joking around, likely in an effort to mock white supremacists, but this would readily explain the differential treatment by the algorithm,” Chhabria wrote.

Chhabria also said some claims predated a recent update to YouTube’s community guidelines, and that YouTube “cannot be liable for breaching a promise it had not yet made.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. YouTube and its lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Chhabria dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be brought again, after the complaint had been amended five times.

The case is Newman et al v Google LLC et al, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 20-04011.




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