YouTube won’t ask US creators for disability data to monitor algorithmic bias

A voluntary survey which aims to assess the impact of YouTube’s policies on different communities will not ask creators for information about their disabilities as part of its rollout.

Announced in December, the form will instead start by gathering information on gender, race, sexual orientation and ethnicity to help identify “potential gaps in our systems that might impact a creator’s opportunity to reach their full potential”.

In a post on YouTube’s Official Blog, Johanna Wright, Vice President of Product Management, writes: “We’ll then look closely at how content from different communities is treated in our search and discovery and monetization systems.

“We’ll also be looking for possible patterns of hate, harassment, and discrimination that may affect some communities more than others.

“If we find any issues in our systems that impact specific communities, we’re committed to working to fix them. And we’ll continue to share our progress on these efforts with you,” it reads.

When asked whether disability would be included as a demographic, YouTube said on background that the survey will launch with the categories announced recently.

They added that they may later expand the scope of their research, and hope to open up the form to creators in other countries in the future.

Concerns over how YouTube’s systems affect disabled creators were previously raised in 2017, when several UK channels reported having their content demonetised under the platform’s advertiser-friendly guidelines.

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, who makes videos on deafness, disability and chronic illness, said in a video at the time: “The best way for people to learn about disabilities, who have no experience of it previously, is obviously to hear from disabled people.

“How can we normalise something, if we’re then putting this world into a space where [it’s like], ‘oh, it’s so bad and big and scary, we can’t talk about that?’

“As an experiment, last week I uploaded a video – ‘My August Favourites‘ – and I didn’t use any tags that are relating to gayness or to disability, but all the other tags that I would normally use, and funnily enough, it was immediately approved,” she said.

A similar test was carried out by autistic creator Katy Gough, known online as ‘invisible i’, who said her video was “instantly monetised” once the phrase ‘disabled YouTuber’ was removed from the tags.

YouTube’s survey will initially be for US creators only and is expected to launch in “early 2021”.

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