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YouTube announces ban on anti-vaccine content for all approved vaccines, not just COVID vaccines

Under the new policy, claims like vaccines containing tracking devices will not be tolerated but there are some exceptions too.

YouTube on September 29 announced a ban on all anti-vaccine content. The platform already has in place policies to prevent misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines, but is now expanding this to all vaccines that are approved by local health authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for use against any disease.

Along with WhatsApp and Facebook, YouTube has been a major source of vaccine misinformation long before the pandemic hit, making this new ban all the more significant.

What type of content is banned?

“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,” YouTube said.

YouTube said that this policy not only covers routine immunisations like ones for measles or Hepatitis B but also applies to general statements about vaccines.

Here’s an examples list of disallowed content from YouTube’s Vaccine misinformation policy page:

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  • Claims that vaccines cause chronic side effects such as cancer, diabetes, and 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 foetuses (e.g. foetal tissue, foetal 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

As part of the new policy, YouTube has banned channels associated with several prominent anti-vaccine activists including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Mercola, Reuters reported.

What are the exceptions to the new policy?

  • Personal testimonials: “We may make exceptions for content in which creators describe first-hand experiences from themselves or their family. At the same time, we recognize there is a difference between sharing personal experiences and promoting misinformation about vaccines. To address this balance, we will still remove content or channels if they include other policy violations or demonstrate a pattern of promoting vaccine misinformation,” the policy reads.
  • Historical success and failures: “There are important exceptions to our 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 company said.
  • Content with additional context: In its policy page, YouTube also says that content that provides additional context such as countervailing views from local health authorities or medical experts may be given an exception to the ban.
  • Content condemning, disputing, satirising misinformation: “We may also make exceptions if the purpose of the content is to condemn, dispute or satirize the misinformation that violates our policies,” YouTube said.
  • Content showing an open public forum: “We may also make exceptions 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,” the company said.

What took YouTube so long?

“Crafting policy around medical misinformation comes charged with inherent challenges and tradeoffs. Scientific understanding evolves as new research emerges, and firsthand, personal experience regularly plays a powerful role in online discourse. Vaccines in particular have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness,” YouTube said.

The company credited its work on preventing COVID-19 misinformation as the stepping stone for policy expansion. In the last year, YouTube removed over 130,000 videos for violating our COVID-19 vaccine policies, the platform said.

“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,” YouTube said.

Russia threatens to ban YouTube for banning RT’s channels

In a separate but related instance, YouTube on September 28 deleted Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels from the platform saying that these channels breached the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policy. The next day YouTube announced its new anti-vaccine policy, Russia threatened to block YouTube in the country and also accused YouTube of “unprecedented information aggression.”

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