YouTube has expanded its ban on medical misinformation to include videos that make false claims about vaccines and misinformation on currently administered vaccines that are approved by local health authorities and the World Health Organisation. The platform will remove content that specifically involves false allegations 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.
YouTube said in a blog post that 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. Its policies not only cover specific routine immunisations such as for measles or Hepatitis B, but also apply to general statements about vaccines. According to CNBC, YouTube has since removed pages linked to "high-profile misinformation spreaders" such as Sherri Tenpenny, Erin Elizabeth, Joseph Mercola, as well as the Children's Health Defense Fund which is associated with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Since last year, YouTube has removed over 130,000 videos that were in violation of its COVID-19 vaccine policies. It also removed videos linking the pandemic to 5G technology. YouTube said last year that such videos are considered as "borderline content", meaning even t hough the videos did not directly violate YouTube's policies, they may be suppressed in terms of ad revenue or completely removed. The recent expansion of policies comes after it saw false claims about the coronavirus vaccines spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general.
There will, however, be exceptions to the guidelines. YouTube added in the post that it will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials, and historical vaccine successes or failures on YouTube, as part of public discussion and debate to the scientific process of the vaccines. Personal testimonials relating to vaccines will also be allowed, so long as the video does not violate other community guidelines, or show a pattern of promoting vaccine hesitancy.
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According to YouTube, this move complements its ongoing work to raise up authoritative health information on its platform and connect people with credible, quality health content and sources. "The policy update is an important step to address vaccine and health misinformation on our platform, and we’ll continue to invest across the board in the policies and products that bring high-quality information to our viewers and the entire YouTube community," it said.
Social media giants have been racing to clamp down on COVID-19 misinformation over the past year. Facebook, for example, removed 20 million pieces of content worldwide for violating policies on COVID-19 related misinformation in August this year. Twitter also enacted a COVID-19 misleading information policy to prevent users from using its services to share false or misleading information about the pandemic.
Earlier in June, YouTube prohibited ads related to gambling, elections and political content, alcohol, and prescription drug terms for its masthead slot. According to Google's support page, assets that depict or reference content including offline gambling, online gambling, online non-casino games, the sale of alcohol, and informational ads focusing on alcoholic beverages will be banned from masthead ads. Assets related to elections, politics and those that reference prescription drug terms will also no longer be shown on masthead ads.
Separately, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently said that its platform is beneficial to adolescent mental health during an interview with Bloomberg earlier this week. According to her, YouTube sees a lot of creators actually talk about mental health and as such, "destigmatises" the topic for younger individuals and spurs people to talk about what is happening with them. She added that YouTube works with a panel of experts to understand the various ways that its product could be used and how it can become a valuable resource for challenging issues such as body positivity and mental health. This came after Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an investigative series titled "The Facebook Files", which said that Instagram was "toxic" for teenage girls. The publication claimed that Facebook had known about the harmful effects of Instagram on teenage girls but did not do anything about it.
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