‘Harmful content:’ is YouTube right to ban anti-vaccine videos/accounts?

Alex Milan Tracy / AP

Fact Box

Andrew (Yes)

Along with all of the wonderful benefits created through the democratization of internet content by platforms such as YouTube, some major difficulties have also arisen--namely the ability of those with sinister intentions to spread false or misleading information

Since YouTube created a platform of unprecedented scale, where any user has the potential to create a worldwide viral video, it simply must do everything it can to ensure that millions of people are not tricked, misled, or otherwise confused by content that could seriously endanger their health and that of those around them. Unfortunately, it is relatively easy to appear as an expert in a YouTube video and, therefore, easily convince users about inaccurate viewpoints. For many people, YouTube is the first place they go when they have questions about a topic. A short video with an engaging host and graphics is often more appealing than sifting through dry source materials and doing thorough research, which highlights the importance of keeping this type of content off YouTube.

This ban is consistent with YouTube’s user agreement which specifically bans any content that causes “risk [to] serious physical harm or death.” Unvaccinated individuals are much more likely to become infected, spread the disease, and ultimately require hospitalization or possibly even die. Clearly, content such as vaccine misinformation puts people at risk of physical harm or death, and it makes sense for YouTube to ban it. Further, YouTube bans other types of content such as violent or graphic content, hate speech, and harassment because they are dangerous for the community at large; anti-vaxxers are unscientific and dangerous for the community as well.

Curtice (No)

Contrary to what the social media giants believe, they are not the arbiters of what is or isn't misinformation. In a move that would draw standing ovations from Stalin, Mao, and Castro, YouTube just announced they would remove videos they say spread misinformation about approved COVID-19 vaccines, as well as any other approved vaccines. 

YouTube relies on 'expert consensus' from health organizations to formulate their definition of misinformation. This reliance, however, is anything but fool-proof. Case in point, the CDC's manipulation of data and different testing metrics for the vaccinated as compared to the unvaccinated. How can an organization be relied upon to establish standards of misinformation when they are creators of it? 

Many millions of people have chosen not to get the COVID vaccine for various reasons, including already having natural immunity, concerns about the swift approval process (bypassing the standard process), as well as concerns about the long and short-term side effects. The choice to get a medical treatment with possible death as a side-effect should be something individuals decide for themselves. Further, depending upon one's circumstances, like wanting to become pregnant, just being young and healthy, or simply needing more answers about it, forgoing the vaccine is more than reasonable and defensible.

However, YouTube has removed the chance for authentic discussion around vaccines even to happen, leaving only 'sanctioned' and approved information to stay on their platform. A 120,000 member Facebook group that discussed COVID vaccine adverse reactions was removed in April 2021. Pretty soon, there will be no place online to engage in essential dialogues around health and safety--these discussions will be pushed underground. Clearly, YouTube has failed at its own mission statement to 'give everyone a voice and show them the world.'

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