YouTube bans vaccine nonsense, such as claims that vaccines alter genetic makeup


A healthcare worker preparing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Enlarge / A COVID-19 vaccine.

YouTube is banning a wide range of anti-vaccine misinformation, saying it will remove videos that falsely claim vaccines cause diseases or alter people’s genetic makeup, that vaccines are used to track people, or that vaccines “are part of a depopulation agenda.”

“Specifically, 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 will be removed,” the Google-owned YouTube said in today’s announcement. “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. Our policies not only cover specific routine immunizations like for measles or Hepatitis B, but also apply to general statements about vaccines.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was among the first purveyors of anti-vaccine misinformation to have a channel removed from YouTube today.

YouTube’s new guidelines list the following examples of false claims that YouTube will remove:

  • Claims that vaccines cause chronic side effects such as:
    • Cancer
    • Diabetes
    • Other chronic side effects
  • Claims that vaccines do not reduce risk of contracting illness
  • Claims that vaccines contain substances that are not on the vaccine ingredient list, such as biological matter from fetuses (e.g. fetal tissue, fetal cell lines) or animal byproducts
  • Claims that vaccines contain substances or devices meant to track or identify those who’ve received them
  • Claims that vaccines alter a person’s genetic makeup
  • Claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism
  • Claims that vaccines are part of a depopulation agenda
  • Claims that the flu vaccine causes chronic side effects such as infertility
  • Claims that the HPV vaccine causes chronic side effects such as paralysis

Context is key; satire is allowed

YouTube said it “may allow content” that violates the policy if it “includes additional context in the video, audio, title or description,” but the site stressed that this “is not a free pass to promote misinformation.” YouTube said it “may also make exceptions” for videos that condemn, dispute, or satirize misinformation and “for content showing an open public forum, like a protest or public hearing, provided that the content does not aim to promote misinformation that violates our policies.”

YouTube will also be more lenient with videos in which people discuss their own experiences with vaccinations but said it “will still remove content or channels if they include other policy violations or demonstrate a pattern of promoting vaccine misinformation.”

YouTube has a three-strikes policy. On a first offense, YouTube will remove the content and send an email to the person who posted it. “If this is the first time you’ve violated our Community Guidelines, you’ll probably get a warning with no penalty to your channel. If it’s not, we may issue a strike against your channel. If you get 3 strikes within 90 days, your channel will be terminated,” YouTube said.

RFK Jr. and Russia angry at YouTube

YouTube removed the channel of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense for spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, and confirmed that it “removed pages associated with high-profile misinformation spreaders like Joseph Mercola, Erin Elizabeth, [and] Sherri Tenpenny, CNBC wrote. Kennedy issued a statement accusing YouTube of censorship, saying, “There is no instance in history when censorship and secrecy have advanced either democracy or public health.” Kennedy was previously banned by Instagram.

YouTube this week also “suspended the posting privileges of RT DE, the German-language service of Russian state-owned media company RT, over COVID-19 misinformation,” and “said it subsequently suspended another channel the broadcaster has used to circumvent the suspension,” according to The Wall Street Journal. That second channel is called Der Fehlende Part. YouTube said it initially issued a one-week suspension to RT DE but then made it a permanent ban on both channels when RT used the second channel to circumvent the suspension, ABC News wrote.

Russia’s foreign ministry yesterday called the suspensions an “act of unprecedented information aggression,” ABC News wrote. Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s media and censorship agency, threatened to block YouTube in Russia or fine Google if the channels are not restored, according to The Washington Post.

YouTube consulted with health experts

YouTube’s announcement today said it has removed over 130,000 videos for violating its COVID-19 vaccine policies since last year. The video-hosting site said it has also “long removed content that promotes harmful remedies, such as saying drinking turpentine can cure diseases.”

“Throughout this work, we learned important lessons about how to design and enforce nuanced medical misinformation policies at scale. 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.”

In developing both its COVID guidelines and its new policy on vaccine misinformation in general, YouTube said it “consulted with local and international health organizations and experts.”

“For example, our new guidance on vaccine side effects maps to public vaccine resources provided by health authorities and backed by medical consensus. These policy changes will go into effect today, and as with any significant update, it will take time for our systems to fully ramp up enforcement,” YouTube wrote. YouTube also said this is not the end of debate about vaccines on the platform.

“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 announcement said.



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