In a policy change announced Wednesday, the popular video-sharing site YouTube says it will no longer allow content from anti-vaxxers, that is, content that misinforms users about “currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.” This includes vaccines for COVID-19 as well as “routine immunizations” for diseases such as measles.
As a result, the Google-owned site says it will remove the video channels of some well-known anti-vaccine activists, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dr. Joseph Mercola. Both men were atop a recent “Disinformation Dozen” list that President Biden seemed to refer to in July when he said “bad information” on social media is “killing people.”
Although Facebook banned vaccine misinformation months ago, it hasn’t yet removed the pages of some prominent anti-vaxxers.
YouTube: Policy-Making Involves ‘Inherent Challenges’
In its explanation of the new standards, YouTube acknowledges that “crafting policy around medical misinformation comes charged with inherent challenges and tradeoffs.” The site said it worked with health experts to “balance our commitment to an open platform with the need to remove egregious harmful content.”
So far, YouTube says it has removed more than 133,000 videos that violate its COVID-19 vaccine policies. Mark Halprin, the platform’s vice president of global trust and safety, says, “We’ll remove claims that vaccines are dangerous or cause a lot of health effects, that vaccines cause autism, cancer, infertility or contain microchips.”
Certain exceptions exist to the new policy, YouTube says, due to “the importance of public discussion and debate.” For example, Halprin says personal testimonials about vaccine side effects and scientific discussions about historical vaccine failures and successes are permissible.
Ramping up enforcement will take time, Halprin adds. YouTube and other social media platforms use teams of moderators as well as algorithms to try to seek out misinformation and offensive content. Meanwhile, YouTube says it’s working to add more videos from medical and scientific authorities.
Dr. Garth Graham, YouTube’s global head of health care and public health partnerships, says research about medical misinformation indicates that “the earlier you can get information in front of someone before they form opinions, the better.”
Consequences of Misinformation from Anti-Vaxxers
YouTube initially focused on coronavirus-vaccine misinformation. But when it noticed that false claims about other common immunizations were adding to COVID-vaccine hesitancy, it tweaked its policy. “Developing robust policies takes time,” Halprin says. “We wanted to launch a policy that is comprehensive, enforceable with consistency, and adequately addresses the challenges.”