YouTube has taken out ads from videos that encourage anti-vaccination content, citing a ban on “dangerous and harmful” material. BuzzFeed News reported the news this afternoon, stating YouTube had confirmed the decision after the publication contacted seven companies who were uninformed that their advertisements were running on anti-vaccination videos. It’s the latest of several ways YouTube has recently constrained conspiracy theories and other objectionable material on its platform.
BuzzFeed reports that the demonetized accounts include anti-vaccination channels LarryCook333 and VAXXED TV, as well as “alternative medicine” channel iHealthTube. The three channels have a total of approximately 473,000 subscribers. “We have strict guidelines that rule what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that encourage anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies,” a spokesperson said. YouTube already adds Wikipedia article links to some queries that are likely to show anti-vaccination content, attempting to counteract misinformation.
“YouTube is attempting to restrict the spread of conspiracy videos”
At least one company BuzzFeed approached, vitamin seller Vitacost, said it had already drawn ads over a separate controversy concerning child predators communicating on YouTube — an issue that YouTube has spent the past few days rushing to fix. “We had strict rules to stop our ads from serving on sensitive content and they were not effective as assured,” it told BuzzFeed.
Last month, YouTube said it would limit the reach of videos featuring conspiracy theories in general, reacting to concerns that its recommendation algorithm forced users down extreme ideological paths. A latest study of “flat earth” believers, for instance, found that almost all its 30 subjects had been recommended flat earth content after viewing videos about other types of conspiracies.
YouTube has had some problems differentiating “harmful” conspiratorial falsehoods from programs intended for entertainment, but advocating against vaccines poses clear public health risks. US Representative Adam Schiff recently sent Facebook and YouTube’s parent company Google a letter increasing concerns about vaccine-related falsehoods, and Facebook is reportedly discovering new options to limit it. The image board site Pinterest, meanwhile, simply ceased returning results for searches about vaccination — saying it was “better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a suggestion rabbit hole.”