YouTube introduces anti-vax ban, but enforcement will be tricky

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

YouTube says it’s blocking misinformation about all vaccines — not just for COVID — and prominent anti-vaccine activists. That includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who’s used social media to push false information about all kinds of vaccines for years. 

The new policy started as a way to combat anti-COVID vaccine misinformation, but YouTube soon realized that other falsehoods about vaccines contributed to overall skepticism. That’s according to Gerrit De Vynck, tech reporter for the Washington Post.

“YouTube videos were a part of that. People who were pushing these debunked theories often made YouTube videos about them. Those YouTube videos were then shared on Facebook and other social media platforms. And people were listening and growing.” 

De Vynck says opponents of the new ban are claiming they’ve been censored, and that information about vaccines is being suppressed. 

YouTube might struggle with enforcing the ban, De Vynck notes. “You and I can go shoot a video, we can upload it on YouTube, there's no human that checks to see whether that video has anything illegal in it, or anything racist in it, or anything that might go against their own policies with medical misinformation. They just let it go onto the website. And it's not until someone flags it that those videos might be taken down. And so it all comes down to the actual enforcement, and are they going to be able to actually take down most of this content?” 

He adds that YouTube has been working to upload and boost content that shows vaccines are safe, including videos made by health and science experts from hospitals and universities. 

De Vynck says it will still be a challenge to compel users who have been historically suspicious of or ignored by the medical community. When asking YouTube executives how to approach that community, De Vynck says they’re hoping that providing factual information is a good start. 

“Everyone has been so saturated with COVID information and news reports and social media and conversations with friends. I mean, it's hard to have a conversation in the year 2021 and not talk about COVID at some point. … It's a really tricky problem. And I think the way to do it is just with empathy and to ask questions, and to understand where people are coming from, instead of just sort of throwing information at them or calling them anti-vaxxers.”