Four African American plaintiffs have filed a class action alleging that YouTube engages in “overt, intentional, and systematic racial discrimination” against its users.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses YouTube of profiting off of hate speech, while at the same time excluding legitimate channels and videos from full revenue generation based solely on the inclusion of terms like “BLM” or “Police Brutality” in titles and tags.
Plaintiffs Kimberly Carleste Newman, Lisa Cabrera, Catherine Jones, and Denotra Nicole Lewis claim that YouTube uses artificial intelligence, algorithms, and other sophisticated filtering tools to profile and target users for censorship based “wholly or in part” on race.
“Regardless of what Defendants’ internal motivations are, Defendants are not above the law nor are they too big to ‘self-regulate’ by complying with the law, including the long established prohibition on race discrimination in contract,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to damages and restitution, plaintiffs ask for a declaration that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act can’t be used to immunize entities from discrimination claims.
That provision, which shields interactive computer service providers from being held civilly liable for the content their users post, was the subject of a May 28 Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship issued by President Donald Trump.
The order said the law shouldn’t provide protection to platforms that “engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.”
The plaintiffs claim the order means the government can’t take the position that immunity applies to claims based on intentional discrimination.
YouTube faces similar claims in a separate, but potentially related lawsuit, Divino Group LLC v. Google. There, the government intervened to defend the constitutionality of the law.
Causes of Action: First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I Section 2 of the California Constitution; 42 U.S.C. §1981; Breach of Contract; Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing; Promissory Estoppel; California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act; the Lanham Act; and Unfair Competition under California’s Business and Professions Code.
Relief: Monetary damages, restitution, and/or other injunctive relief.
Potential Class Size: The proposed class would include anyone who is a member of a protected class under 42 U.S.C. §1981 who uses or has used YouTube since 2015, which includes at least 40 million YouTube users, according to the complaint.
Response: Google declined to comment on the specific litigation, but a company spokesperson said YouTube strives to build its systems and enforce its policies in a neutral, consistent way.
Attorneys: Browne George Ross LLP represent the plaintiffs.
The case is Newman v. Google Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 5:20-cv-04011, 6/16/20.