YouTube creators have long used the platform to share informative, engaging, or lighthearted content through vlogs, mukbangs, funny pet clips, song covers, and more. But in the past few years, like many social media sites, the video hosting platform has fallen victim to misinformation campaigns and divisive rhetoric surrounding vaccines.
Now, YouTube is taking a decisive stand against anti-vaccine videos.
YouTube announced Wednesday that, through new medical policy updates, it will ban harmful vaccine misinformation from its platform. In a post published to its official blog, the popular website released updated community guidelines that expand its medical misinformation policies, focusing on content and creators making false claims about vaccines.
The announcement coincided with the removal of accounts of prominent anti-vax figures who spread vaccine misinformation, according to the New York Times.
“Working closely with health authorities, we looked to balance our commitment to an open platform with the need to remove egregious harmful content,” YouTube wrote in its blog post. “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.”
To fight #COVID19 misinformation, WHO has collaborated with @Twitter , @Facebook , @instagram, @LinkedIn , @Snapchat, @tiktok_us, @Pinterest, @YouTube, to direct people to WHO or national health institutions when searching for coronavirus information ℹ️ pic.twitter.com/Qxypp4w4i9— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) September 28, 2021
YouTube will base its policies on information provided by local health officials and the World Health Organization (WHO). The guidelines will enforce the removal of all content containing false allegations against approved vaccines, including videos that suggest that vaccines do not “reduce transmission or contraction of diseases.”
The YouTube team has already worked with experts since the beginning of the pandemic to develop regulations that target COVID-19 misinformation. According to the company, more than 130,000 videos that violated those regulations have been removed from the site since last year.
The updated policies come at a time when vaccine hesitancy and holdouts continue to drive cases in unvaccinated areas of the US. With the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, hospitals across the country have received an influx of cases, with unvaccinated patients making up the majority. According to a study conducted by the CDC, those who remained unvaccinated against COVID-19 were 11 times more likely to die from the disease compared to those who received vaccinations.
Around the world, vaccine hesitancy continues to affect COVID-19 recovery efforts. In Russia, where more than half of the population is unvaccinated, daily death tolls continue to rise. Even in the UK, where 80% of adults have been vaccinated, unvaccinated people make up 75% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), surveys showed that globally, less than 70% of the general public was accepting of COVID-19 vaccines. While some countries may report high vaccination rates overall, the statistics can vary city to city and create highly concentrated areas of the virus.
The proliferation of vaccine misinformation that has plagued social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube has driven vaccine hesitancy for years. From false claims that vaccines cause autism to conspiracy theorists who insist that immunizations are used for government surveillance, misinformation and disinformation have contributed to audiences across the internet opting out of receiving doses of life-saving medical technology.
As social media sites grapple with ways to regulate misinformation, the WHO and other health officials around the world remain in agreement: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective against disease.
While richer countries like the US and France continue to urge and incentivize their unvaccinated citizens to get the jab, in some cases, with more shots available than people who want them, millions of vaccines have been thrown away. And still, only 2.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. Across the African continent, less than 4% of people are fully vaccinated and donations of doses from wealthier nations continue to fall short of what’s needed.
“But it’s not vaccines that will stop the pandemic, it’s vaccination," the WHO states on its website. "We must ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines, and ensure every country receives them and can roll them out to protect their people, starting with the most vulnerable."
Disclosure: YouTube is a partner of Global Citizen.