YouTube to clamp down on medical misinformation with fresh policy change

Service grappling with issue, which was highlighted during pandemic

Video-streaming giant YouTube is targeting medical misinformation on its platform, taking down videos that publish false claims that could cause harm, as part of a wider push to simplify guidelines.

The Google-owned site said this would include removing false information about cancer treatments from the platform, misinformation on approved vaccines, content that discourages people from seeking medical attention and content that denies the existence of certain medical conditions.

YouTube is trying to strike a balance between removing harmful content while retaining space for debate and discussion. The platform already had dozens of guidelines on medical misinformation, covering vaccines, reproductive health and Covid. These will be streamlined to fall into three categories – prevention, treatment and denial – and applied to health conditions, treatments and substances where the content contradicts medical advice from local health authorities or the World Health Organisation.

The problem of medical misinformation was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic. “The bigger picture is how do you evolve medical misinformation beyond just Covid and get into other illnesses that are affecting the population?” YouTube’s global head of healthcare and public health partnerships, Dr Garth Graham, said.


“As Covid has hit a more chronic steady state, we’re looking to evolve our medical misinformation approach beyond just that. We’re looking at this concept of a general framework for how we look at and how we identify key areas that are ripe for medical misinformation but that are also impactful globally.”

Dr Graham said the platform was concentrating on areas prone to misinformation, where there may be information out there that is harmful and associated with a high public health risk and where there is stable consensus. “There are a lot of health and medical topics where there’s ongoing researchbut there are many components of cancer, for instance, where there is a lot of stable consensus and, globally, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

The platform will tap medical experts both in the World Health Organisation and locally for expertise, evolving a wider framework that will govern different types of medical information on the website. Content that breaches the guidelines will be removed, unless it is deemed to be in the public interest, such as public hearings or comments made by national political candidates that disputes health authority guidance. Dr Graham said, however, the content may be age restricted or have additional information provided to give important context to a video.

“We’ve been walking this fine line on a number of other topics because we believe that the ability to openly debate political ideas, even those that are controversial, is core to a functioning democratic society overall,” said Dr Graham.

Policies will also be adapted in line with public health guidance, YouTube said.

“Our goal is to make the rules of the road clearer and have a more transparent framework in place for evaluating whether certain diseases or conditions would be included in the future,” the platform wrote in a blog post.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist