YouTube tackles misinformation — will take down videos linking vaccines to cancer, autism

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YouTube tackles misinformation — will take down videos linking vaccines to cancer, autism

YouTube is tightening its policies on vaccine videos in an effort to fight misinformation and conspiracy theories.

The video-sharing platform announced a ban on misinformation around any vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or local health authorities that are currently being administered. YouTube defines as “misinformation” any content that claims approved vaccines “cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines,” according to a blog post Wednesday.

That means the Google-owned platform will delete videos that falsely claim vaccines cause health issues, like cancer, infertility or autism — a theory that scientists have discredited for decades but has endured on the internet. As of Wednesday, popular anti-vaccine accounts, including those run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., were kicked off YouTube.

As of late last year, the platform has already begun cracking down on false claims about COVID-19 and the vaccines developed against the virus. Its latest announcement comes as countries around the world push to offer free COVID-19 vaccines to a hesitant group of holdouts.

“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,” YouTube said in a prepared statement.

Public officials have struggled to counter a steady current of online misinformation about the COVID-19 shots since rollout of the vaccines first got underway last year. Meanwhile, YouTube has been criticized for being inconsistent with its own policies, wrongly taking down videos that criticize anti-vaccine claims, as investigative reporter Matt Taibbi has documented.

YouTube’s new rule will apply to claims about vaccines in general as well as statements about specific vaccines, such as those given for measles, the flu or COVID-19.

Claims about vaccines that are still being tested will continue to be allowed on the site. Personal stories of reactions to the vaccine will also be permitted, as long as they do not come from an account that has a history of promoting vaccine misinformation.