“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,” YouTube said, adding that the policy applies to specific immunizations like those for measles, as well as general statements about vaccines.
Kennedy pushed back on YouTube’s decision, telling CNN Business in a statement: “There is no instance in history when censorship has been beneficial for either democracy or public health.”
YouTube said Wednesday that misleading claims have spilled over into other areas of medicine.
YouTube’s action is potentially significant because of its impact on the misinformation ecosystem. “A lot of the vaccine misinformation you see on other platforms links to YouTube videos,” said Lisa Fazio, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University who has studied misinformation. “It was a major loophole in our information ecosystem that it was so easy to post blatantly false information about vaccines on YouTube and have it gain large audiences.”
In an effort to evade the previous YouTube bans on Covid-19 misinformation, bad actors had pivoted to posting more general anti-vaccine content to sow confusion and distrust in inoculations more broadly, Fazio said.
Under YouTube’s new rules, users who post vaccine misinformation will be subject to its strike policy, which provides up to three strikes for content that goes against its policies posted within a 90-day period. The third strike leads to the user being permanently suspended. However, the company also says it may remove users after only one severe violation of the rules or when a channel is dedicated to violating the policy.
YouTube also said Wednesday that there will be exceptions to its new anti-vaccine guidelines. It will allow, for example, content about new vaccine trials and historical vaccine successes or failures.
“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,” YouTube said.