Managing harmful vaccine content on YouTube
Sep 29, 2021 – minute read
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. Today, we're expanding our medical misinformation policies on YouTube with new guidelines on currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.
Since last year, we’ve removed over 130,000 videos for violating our COVID-19 vaccine policies.
Our Community Guidelines already prohibit certain types of medical misinformation. We've long removed content that promotes harmful remedies, such as saying drinking turpentine can cure diseases. At the onset of COVID-19, we built on these policies when the pandemic hit, and worked with experts to develop 10 new policies around COVID-19 and medical misinformation. Since last year, we’ve removed over 130,000 videos for violating our COVID-19 vaccine policies.
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. 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.
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. 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. Our policies not only cover specific routine immunizations like for measles or Hepatitis B, but also apply to general statements about vaccines.
As with our COVID guidelines, we consulted with local and international health organizations and experts in developing these policies. For example, our new guidance on vaccine side effects maps to public vaccine resources provided by health authorities and backed by medical consensus. These policy changes will go into effect today, and as with any significant update, it will take time for our systems to fully ramp up enforcement.
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. Personal testimonials relating to vaccines will also be allowed, so long as the video doesn't violate other Community Guidelines, or the channel doesn't show a pattern of promoting vaccine hesitancy.
All of this complements our ongoing work to raise up authoritative health information on our platform and connect people with credible, quality health content and sources.
Today’s 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.