On Friday, YouTube told Buzzfeed News that it is demonetizing channels that promote anti-vaccination content. YouTube said that this type of content does not align with its policy and called it “dangerous and harmful” content. This decision comes just after the Buzzfeed News report about YouTube’s algorithm recommending videos that described vaccines as dangerous and also showed ads on these videos.
In an email to Buzzfeed News, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We have strict policies that govern what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that promote anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies. We enforce these policies vigorously, and if we find a video that violates them, we immediately take action and remove ads.” Recently, Youtube also faced backlash for monetizing paedophilic videos by displaying ads from big brands such as Nestle, Disney, Fortnite on them.
In addition to demonetizing the anti-vaccination videos, YouTube will also be showing an information panel that will link to a Wikipedia page about “vaccine hesitancy.” YouTube also introduced information panels to prevent misinformation around measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Right from the start of this year, it seems that things are not going really well for YouTube. In early January, it has to revise its policies to ban dangerous pranks and challenges. Later, it announced an update to reduce the recommendations of videos related to conspiracy, false claims about historical events, flat earth videos, etc.
What did Buzzfeed News report?
Very often, users visit YouTube not only for entertainment but also to get answers on their health-related questions. When the Buzzfeed News team searched for “Should I vaccinate my kids?”, they were presented with search results and recommendations for videos that were about anti-vaccination.
One of the examples they shared was of a YouTube search for “immunization” that showed a video from the Rehealthify channel that says that vaccination is important to keep children protected from certain diseases. But, just after this video, YouTube recommended a video related to anti-vaccination called “Mom Researches Vaccines, Discovers Vaccination Horrors and Goes Vaccine Free”. In this video, a mother was sharing why she decided to stop vaccinating her children. She said, “I wasn’t always that person who was going to not vaccinate, but it has to start somewhere. If you go down a road, follow the road, and see where it leads. Unless you know for sure that your child will be 100% safe, do you want to play that game? If you can’t say ‘yes’ right now, pause.”
Buzzfeed News conducted a bunch of search tests from Feb 14 – Feb 20. Some search results showed videos from professional medical channels and celebrity doctors. In some tests, the Up Next recommendation videos were 100% related to anti-vaccination.
Even before the Buzzfeed News report, California Rep. Adam Schiff contacted both Facebook and Google asking them to address the anti-vaccination issue. “YouTube is surfacing and recommending messages that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” wrote Schiff in the letter. To which Facebook responded that they are taking “steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook.” Last week, Pinterest also took a strong stand against the spread of misinformation related to vaccines by blocking all “vaccination” related searches.
The report also shared that YouTube was showing ads on these videos. Seven advertisers told Buzzfeed News that they were not even aware that their ads were shown on these channels. Nomad Health, a health tech company, told Buzzfeed News, “...not aware of our ads running alongside anti-vaccination videos.” These companies have asked YouTube to pull down their ads from these videos.
You can read the full report on Buzzfeed News’ official website.