YouTube announces “long term vision” for tackling medical misinformation

August 15, 2023

Video-sharing giant YouTube on Tuesday announced a new policy for medical misinformation on its website. 

It’s unclear how much medical misinformation and disinformation is floating around on the internet, but the National Institutes of Health determined in 2021 that some 43% of postings about vaccines falls under misinformation—the most of any topic looked at amid 69 different studies—while some 7% of content regarding medical treatments in general was misinformation.

Former U.S Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has stated, “Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts.”

YouTube’s new policy was introduced by Dr. Garth Graham, Director and Global Head of Healthcare and Public Health Partnerships, and Matt Halprin, VP and Global Head of Trust and Safety.

“As medical information—and misinformation—continuously evolves, YouTube needs a policy framework that holds up in the long term, and preserves the important balance of removing egregiously harmful content while ensuring space for debate and discussion,” they say.

Moving forward, YouTube plans to streamline dozens of its existing medical information guidelines and remove content that contradicts health authorities within three separate categories: Prevention, Treatment, and Denial.

The last category, YouTube notes, will include content that denies that people have died from the Covid-19 virus.

YouTube also specifies misinformation surrounding cancer treatments. The website says it will be working over the coming weeks to remove content that promotes harmful or ineffective cancer treatments. 

“For instance, a video that claims ‘garlic cures cancer,; or ‘take vitamin C instead of radiation therapy’ would be removed,” says YouTube. In its place, the website plans to publish “a playlist of engaging, informative cancer-related videos from a range of authoritative sources, and we’re collaborating with Mayo Clinic on new video content to share information on a variety of cancer conditions.”

While YouTube concedes that “debate and discussion are critical to the advancement of science and medicine,” the company aims to only allow content that is “sufficiently in the public interest” to remain online. This may include accepting, under certain circumstances, personal testimonies along with scientific data. 

“Looking ahead, we want to make sure there is a robust framework to build upon when the need for new medical misinformation policies arises,” says YouTube. “We’ll continue to monitor local and global health authority guidance to make sure our policies adapt.”

The website adds that it wants its approach to be “clear and transparent, so that content creators understand where the policy lines are, and viewers know they can trust the health information they find on YouTube.”

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