New YouTube Policy Will Remove Videos Sharing Vaccine Misinformation

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Key Takeaways

  • YouTube expanded its medical misinformation policies to manage harmful vaccine content on its platform.
  • Experts say that the YouTube ban may help combat the spread of health misinformation.
  • It's important to fact-check health information with reliable sources before trusting or sharing it with other people.

In this digital age, misleading and false content can spread like wildfire online. Throughout the pandemic, vaccine misinformation has run rampant on social media and video platforms.

This September, YouTube announced that they are expanding their medical misinformation policies to cover a broader scope of harmful vaccine content on their platform. Since 2020, the company has taken down over 130,000 videos that violated its COVID-19 vaccine policies.

The new policy now intends to remove false and inaccurate content about currently administered vaccines that are approved by health authorities—not just COVID-19 vaccines—as well as vaccination in general.

Many are concerned that the new policy might not make much of a difference because videos with false information continue to attract millions of views. However, the ban is likely to help slow the spread of health misinformation to an extent, experts say.

YouTube Plays a Role in Spreading Health Misinformation

It’s important for media-sharing platforms to recognize and address the role they play in spreading false and misleading content. Research shows that more than 40% of people use social media as a source of healthcare information.

According to Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, U.S. Surgeon General, health misinformation can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and bring harm to people's health.

“As an emergency physician on the frontlines, it saddens me to see patients who are now sick from COVID-19 express regrets at believing falsehoods on the internet,” Emmanuel Ohuabunwa, MD, MBA, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, tells Verywell. “I, therefore, support social media companies that do their parts to protect the lives of the patients we serve.”

Studies show that YouTube has been a source of misinformation for public health crises such as the H1N1 pandemic, Ebola outbreak, and Zika outbreak. Around a quarter of the videos about these diseases provided misleading content, and most came from independent users.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, videos containing false information also garner millions of views on the platform.

Although the people who spread misinformation on YouTube will likely just move to a different platform, the ban is still a step in the right direction, Ohuabunwa says.

"When large companies that command a huge market share like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, make a concerted effort to combat misinformation, they will inevitably overshadow the activity of the smaller players," he adds.

There is also a high prevalence of misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, which are often shared by low-credibility sources that are verified on social media platforms.

“People don’t typically search for misinformation online,” Brian Southwell, PhD, director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program at RTI International and editor of Misinformation and Mass Audiences, tells Verywell. “They search for information that they can use. They go to sites where there is information they find compelling. Some of the larger social media platforms are places where people turn regularly, and so reducing misinformation in those venues can directly translate into fewer people encountering that misinformation.”

What This Means For You

The internet is riddled with health misinformation, so it’s important that you verify any claims or stories before sharing them with others. Always check with trustworthy and reliable sources of information such as government websites or health institutions.

Fact-Check Using Credible Sources of Information

Some people who share misinformation may do so unintentionally. Although the intention is to help others by letting them know about important data, failing to verify the accuracy of information before sharing it may cause more harm than good. It's important to learn how to identify and avoid spreading health misinformation.

“Misinformation tends to play on people’s emotions such as anger and fear,” Ohuabunwa says. “You see headlines like ‘click here for what they don’t want you to see.’ Unfortunately, in such moments, people succumb to their emotions as opposed to a more thoughtful, methodical approach.”

Inaccurate and misleading information is often framed in a sensational and emotional manner that aligns with cognitive biases, which prompts individuals to share them with urgency. Social media platforms also have a significant impact in allowing emotionally charged stories to spread more easily than emotionally neutral content.

“If you read something that seems too good to be true or to which you have a strong emotional reaction, it can be useful to search for additional sources of information to verify that claim,” Southwell says.

Experts say individuals should do some fact-checking by referring to a handful of credible and trustworthy sources of information, which include:

“Thankfully, many of these organizations are now on social media and are using their platforms to combat misinformation,” Ohuabunwa says. “I urge the readers to follow these platforms. I also encourage healthcare workers to use their platforms to amplify these voices as we work together to make the pandemic a thing of the past.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. YouTube. Managing harmful vaccine content on YouTube.

  2. Surani Z, Hirani R, Elias A, et al. Social media usage among health care providers. BMC Res Notes. 2017;10(1):654. doi:10.1186/s13104-017-2993-y

  3. Office of the Surgeon General. Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment.

  4. Li HO, Bailey A, Huynh D, et al. YouTube as a source of information on COVID-19: a pandemic of misinformation. BMJ Global Health.

  5. Yang K-C, Pierri F, Hui P-M, et al. The COVID-19 Infodemic: Twitter versus Facebook. Big Data & Society. doi:10.1177/20539517211013861

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.