YouTube’s Hate Speech policies clearly state that the use of slurs and stereotypes that incite or promote hatred based on Sexual Orientation, Sex, Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Expression is not allowed on YouTube.
However, YouTube hosts a number of videos on its platform which contain homophobic and transphobic slurs in South Asian languages used to dehumanise people. Reporting these videos with detailed information and regional context does not help either; YouTube seldom removes the content. It allows such videos to reach billions of viewers, thereby spreading more homophobia in an already homophobic society.
This undoes the work done by LGBTQ+ activists and NGOs over decades to spread awareness and to reduce the stigma in South Asia. Additionally, YouTube makes money from ads that are shown on these videos. Not just that, it incentivises homophobic creators to create more content by sharing a part of the ad revenue with them.
For example, consider the popular video.
It insults TikTok creators using homophobic slurs such as Meetha (meaning ‘sweet’ but used as an insult, citing lack of ‘masculinity’) and Pari (meaning ‘Fairy’, used to misgender). Note that in South Asia, it is a common practice to insult TikTok users by calling them gay or transgender. Further, the person in the video says that TikTok creators can be sold at a Meethai ki Dukaan (sweet shop) for ₹200, referring to the homophobic slur Meetha.
Throughout the video, he resorts to the common homophobic practice of misgendering by addressing the TikTok creator as Beti (daughter). At one point, he threatens the target with a sexual crime saying, andar se khol ke bajaa denge (I will rip you open and fuck you). He once again calls the target queer by asking, tum jab hagte ho tab indradhanush nikalte hai na? (You poop rainbows, don’t you?)
It is quite clear that this video is problematic and violates YouTube’s policies. Yet, YouTube has allowed this content to stay on its platform. This video has been viewed by more than 6.6 crore users as of 13th May, 2020. Although this particular video does not show ads, other videos that are promoting this video and spreading homophobia are showing ads and filling YouTube’s treasures. These two videos are not an exception but a norm. YouTube refuses to remove several such videos, thereby making its policies and reporting mechanism useless.
YouTube proudly claims to support the LGBTQ+ community and follows the corporate trend of putting up a rainbow logo during the Pride month. Yet, the damage that YouTube causes to the LGBTQ+ community in South Asia is enormous. LGBTQ+ youths face bullying and harassment from an early age, and this often results in poor mental health. When giant platforms like YouTube normalise and incentivise bullying, hate and abuse against the LGBTQ+ community, it becomes extremely hard to improve the lives of South Asian Queer persons.
Last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to LGBTQ+ employees saying that YouTube was taking a ‘hard look’ at its policies and would be consulting internal LGBTQ+ groups to make the platform more safe and inclusive. Given that YouTube is still allowing several homophobic videos to remain on its platform, making revenue through such content, supporting homophobic creators with monetary incentives and helping them reach billions of users, it seems like YouTube is yet to take the ‘hard look’ that Sundar spoke about.
An update to the story was published on May 15.