Exactly How YouTube Is Cracking Down On Vaccine Misinformation

The video platform is taking action against content promoting falsehoods about inoculations, including the COVID-19 vaccines.

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Photo: AdobeStock / Jo Imperio

Misinformation in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing new. And while, unfortunately, there still are places on the internet that can provide users falsehoods about critical issues, YouTube announced Wednesday that it's cracking down in the fight against health-related misreports and inaccurate statements — beyond just those about, say, the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a blog post published Wednesday, YouTube announced that the platform will expand its medical misinformation policy to include content spreading falsities about other vaccinations and vaccine policies. "Vaccines, in particular, have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness," begins the YouTube team. "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 [World Health Organization]." (

The specific new rule reads, "YouTube doesn't allow content that poses a serious risk of egregious harm by spreading medical misinformation about currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is limited to content that contradicts local health authorities' or the WHO's guidance on vaccine safety, efficacy, and ingredients."

In Wednesday's blog post, YouTube lists several examples of vaccination misinformation claims that could warrant banning content, such as allegations that "approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects." Other instances can include that "approved vaccines cause autism, cancer, or infertility, or that substances in vaccines can track those who receive them." (

In terms of removing content, YouTube counts on teams globally to "review flagged videos" and nix them from the platform if they're truly in violation of guidelines. YouTube users can also flag content they find inappropriate by clicking on the "report" icon (which you find by selecting the three dots at the bottom of a YouTube video.) Upon clicking the dots, a report icon will appear, along with a flag animation.

Violations of YouTube's vaccination misinformation policy are also in regard to specific vaccines, including claims that the MMR vaccine (which protects children against measles, mumps, and rubella) causes autism. Other content that's not allowed on YouTube includes accusations that the influenza vaccine (aka the flu shot) causes infertility and that the HPV vaccine (which protects against the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection) can cause paralysis. YouTube also has a separate medical misinformation policy dedicated to COVID-19. With this policy, YouTube states that it doesn't allow content about the coronavirus "that poses a serious risk or egregious harm" and "that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities' or the World Health Organization's (WHO) medical information" and guidance on the transmission of COVID-19, prevention, diagnosis, and the existence of the virus itself, among others.

YouTube also notes in Wednesday's update that there are some exceptions to the policy, but those are just that: exceptions, not the rules. "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," reads the blog post. "Personal testimonials relating to the vaccines will also be allowed," as long as they don't violate other community guidelines or the "channel doesn't show a pattern of promoting vaccine hesitancy."

"This is not a free pass to promote misinformation," warns YouTube in its vaccine misinformation policy. "Additional context may include countervailing views from local health authorities or medical experts. We may also make exceptions if the purpose of the content is to condemn, dispute, or satirize misinformation that violates our policies. We may also make exceptions for content showing an open public forum, like a protest or public hearing, provided the content does not aim to promote misinformation that violates our policies." Essentially, if the video is not explicitly promoting misinformation, you're free to speak about the misinformation in context.

YouTube users will also retain the freedom to speak about their own specific, personal experiences with vaccines, provided the content doesn't violate other guidelines, or the channel itself doesn't illustrate a pattern encouraging vaccine hesitancy as a whole.

Since last year, YouTube has removed more than 130,000 videos for spreading medical misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine policies, according to the recent blog post. The platform has previously removed videos with harmful medical advice including the bizarre claim that drinking turpentine can cure diseases (because it can't, and because it's also really dangerous).

"Throughout this work, we learned important lessons about how to design and enforce nuanced medical misinformation policies at scale," said the YouTube team in Wednesday's statement. "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."

The optimal way to prevent infections and serious illnesses from diseases such as COVID-19 is through vaccination. If you're concerned about some vaccination claims you've heard, check out this list of eight common misconceptions about vaccination.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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