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YouTube Expands Effort to Fight Misinformation in Vaccine Videos

September 29, 2021 by Dan McCue

YouTube revamped its medical misinformation policies on Wednesday, advancing a new set of guidelines on vaccines that have already been approved and confirmed safe and effective by health authorities, including the World Health Organization.

In a blog post on its website attributed to “The YouTube Team,” the company noted that its guidelines have long prohibited certain types of medical misinformation and that in the past it has removed content that promoted harmful remedies, like drinking turpentine to cure various illnesses.

But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic confronted the popular video channel with new challenges.

At first, it sought to build on its existing misinformation policies, incorporating 10 new policies directly responding to untruths related to COVID-19 and the vaccines developed to treat it.

Since last year, the company said, it has removed over 130,000 videos for violating those initial COVID-19 vaccine policies.

“Throughout this work, we learned important lessons about how to design and enforce nuanced medical misinformation policies at scale,” the YouTube Team writes. “Working closely with health authorities, we looked to balance our commitment to an open platform with the need to remove egregious harmful content. 

“We’ve steadily seen false claims about the coronavirus vaccines spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general, and we’re now at a point where it’s more important than ever to expand the work we started with COVID-19 to other vaccines,” they continued. 

Going forward, the company said, it’s going to be more tenacious than ever in policing content that:

  • Falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects;
  • Claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease; or
  • Contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines.

This would include content that falsely says that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility, or that substances in vaccines can track those who receive them,the company said.

The new policies will not only cover specific routine immunizations such as for measles or Hepatitis B, but also apply to general statements about vaccines.

“Our new guidance on vaccine side effects maps to public vaccine resources provided by health authorities and backed by medical consensus,” The YouTube Team wrote.

Though the policy changes went into effect as soon as they were announced Wednesday morning, the company said that as with any significant update, it will take time for its systems to fully ramp up enforcement. 

YouTube also noted that there are some important exceptions to its new guidelines.

“Given the importance of public discussion and debate to the scientific process, we will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials, and historical vaccine successes or failures on YouTube,” The YouTube team wrote. “Personal testimonials relating to vaccines will also be allowed, so long as the video doesn’t violate other Community Guidelines, or the channel doesn’t show a pattern of promoting vaccine hesitancy.” 

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