From 5G chips to horse dewormer, we've heard a million conspiracy theories during this pandemic -- and the vast majority of them are spreading through social media. No matter how you look at it and what channels you use, the problem is that disinformation is thriving, and a lot of people are falling for it.
In a belated attempt at stopping this disinformation, Youtube has now announced that it will now ban antivax content and remove the channels of several prominent antivaxxers, including one belonging to the so-called Children's Health Defense Fund, a group affiliated with controversial anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
The likes of Joseph Mercola, Erin Elizabeth, and Sherri Tenpenny -- all identified as having prominent roles in spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines -- will soon have their channels blocked as part of a crackdown on online disinformation. The decision builds on already existing rules against COVID-19 disinformation on Youtube.
Users who post misinformation on any "currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO" will have their videos taken down, and will be subject to YouTube's strike policy and could face removal, the company said in the blog post.
In practice, this means Youtube will remove misinformation about administered vaccines that are confirmed by scientific evidence and health authorities to be safe and effective.
"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 doesn't apply only to COVID-19 vaccines, but also to other vaccinations.
Still, there are exceptions.
"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," Youtube's explanation read.
Social media platforms have been criticized for not taking enough action to address vaccine misinformation. The spread of this misinformation is affecting all of us, as it hampers the vaccination campaign and prolongs the pandemic. The White House also called on big tech companies to address this issue, especially after only 12 people were found to be responsible for most hoaxes around vaccines.
YouTube is one of many services that have gradually tightened their policies on coronavirus misinformation, as antivax and other misleading content spreads across the internet. Facebook has been discussing similar measures since 2019, although Facebook misinformation is still rampant.
Whether or not this will actually succeed at hampering health misinformation remains to be seen. With vaccination rates plateauing (at least in part due to this misinformation) the stakes have never been higher.