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YouTube cracks down on anti-vaccine videos, bans major accounts

  • YouTube had a policy against Covid-19 vaccine misinformation, but the new ban includes content that falsely claims vaccines for other diseases are dangerous or ineffective

YouTube announced a total ban Wednesday on vaccine misinformation and the termination of the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine influencers, including Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., citing “the need to remove egregious harmful content.”

The new policy was crafted as the company began to see false claims about Covid-19 vaccines “spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general,” according to a company blog post

“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,” the company wrote.

YouTube already had a policy against Covid vaccine misinformation, but the new ban against broader vaccine misinformation includes content that falsely claims approved vaccines are dangerous or ineffective, including the false belief that vaccines cause autism or cancer. 

YouTube’s move follows a similar ban in February from Facebook. Facebook’s uneven enforcement against prominent anti-vaccine activists and its failure to rein in vaccine misinformation since then highlights the challenges ahead for YouTube as it moves to enforce rules against the anti-vaccine community, known for its adeptness at circumventing content moderation.

Anti-vaccine creators have flourished on YouTube for over a decade, moving to the Google-owned platform after traditional media stopped promoting their messaging. Anti-vaccine content was so ubiquitous that vaccine advocacy organizations were forced off the platform years ago.

“It has been incredibly frustrating to try and share good, science-based information about vaccines on YouTube, only to have the algorithms then suggest anti-vaccine content to our viewers,” said Erica DeWald, communications director of Vaccinate Your Family, the nation’s largest nonprofit group dedicated to advocating for vaccines. “We’re hopeful this is a positive step toward ensuring people have access to real information about vaccines and will signal other social media companies to follow suit.”

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