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YouTube pulls the plug on anti-vaxxers

September 29, 2021, 11:11 PM UTC

While everyone focuses on Facebook’s firestorm of faults, YouTube is taking the opportunity to sweep some uglies under the rug. The Google-owned video streaming site said Wednesday that it would expand its ban on medical misinformation by prohibiting false claims about vaccines beyond COVID-19. (The service had previously banned COVID misinformation.)

Anti-vaccine activists are broadly getting the boot, in other words. YouTube is pulling the plug on the accounts of frequent falsehood-peddlers and flame-fanners, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Floridian osteopath Joseph Mercola. The two anti-vaxx influencers ranked atop “the disinformation dozen,” a list of individuals who helped propel two-thirds of the anti-vaccine content on social media between February and mid-March, according to a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that calls for Big Tech accountability. 

“We’ve steadily seen false claims about the coronavirus vaccines spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general, and we’re now at a point where it’s more important than ever to expand the work we started with COVID-19 to other vaccines,” the YouTube team wrote in a blog post

Newly banned: Posts that falsely allege approved vaccines are dangerous or cause chronic health effects, like autism, cancer, or infertility—out. Claims that vaccines don’t help prevent the transmission or contraction of disease—gone. Misinformation about what’s inside vaccine shots—like Bill Gates-funded microchips—sayonara. The new rules extend beyond COVID-19 vaccines to cover vaccines for measles, Hep B, and unqualified statements about vaccines generally.

The policy change aligns YouTube more closely with its peers. Facebook cracked down on vaccine misinformation in February, extending its bans from ads to unpaid posts and to anti-vaccine content generally. (While Instagram removed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., at the time, he’s still active on Facebook proper.) In March, Twitter made its misinformation rules clearer too, detailing a system where five “strikes”—notched by deliberately pushing conspiracies and harmful claims—lead to a suspension.

Public health officials will regard YouTube’s ban as a welcome move, even though it comes many months—years, even—later than they might have wished. Despite YouTube’s good intentions, the implementation is bound to be messy. Exceptions to the rules include content about vaccination policies, new vaccine trials, historical analyses of vaccine efficacy, and personal vaccine testimonials that don’t run afoul of other guidelines—a set of exclusions that leaves room for ample ambiguity.

Russia is already furious over the removal of two German-language YouTube accounts maintained by the Kremlin-sponsored broadcaster RT. YouTube suspended the channels for allegedly spreading COVID misinformation. Russia’s increasingly brash communications regulator is threatening to ban YouTube unless it restores them.

While the anti-anti-vaxx changes take effect immediately, YouTube said “it will take time for our systems to fully ramp up enforcement.” About time the inoculation kicked in.


On another note, we hope to see you at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in beautiful, seaside Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. 

COVID’s long-lasting impacts will remain a big theme at the event. As we continue to grapple with the pandemic and its effects, we’re all taking stock and reexamining the opportunities in front of us. How do we rethink how we work, play, and communicate? How can we design new systems that optimize not just productivity, but also inclusivity? How do we harness the speed, agility, and innovation unlocked during these tough times and leverage them to propel us further? How do we redefine the future?

Just a few of the names who will be gracing the stage this year: We’ll talk about where Verizon heads next with CEO Hans Vestberg; how producing new forms of food can affect climate change with companies like Air Protein and Upside Foods; the chip market’s future with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger; financial inclusion with Michael “Killer Mike” Render; digital security with Kevin Mandia of FireEye; the stock market (and his new book) with the smart and funny Mark Mahaney; the rise of super-apps with Grab president Ming Maa; where autonomous vehicles are taking us with Waymo CEO Tekedra Mawakana; the world of sports and business with NBA legend Dwyane Wade and Qualtrics founder and exec chairman Ryan Smith; the fast-moving space-race with XPrize Foundation CEO and astronaut Anousheh Anzari—and many more. Other topics on the agenda: investing and going public (or not), retail, health, the metaverse, the future of work, data and A.I., media and entertainment, and much more.

You can apply to attend here. Come join the conversation as we learn from our recent past and work toward a redefined future–with the beautiful backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

Robert Hackett


Context clues. YouTube wasn't the only business unit under Alphabet's corporate umbrella that took steps Wednesday to curb mis- and dis-information. Google announced that it is beefing up the "About This Result" panel that online browsers (that is, the people—not the Safaris and Chromes of the world) see when navigating the search engine's results, according to Bloomberg

Facebook whistleblower to testify. A U.S. Senate subcommittee is bringing in Facebook's global head of safety Thursday for what is primed to be a lengthy and combative hearing on the heels of The Wall Street Journal’s series of investigations looking into the social networking giant’s internal operations. But that won’t be the end of it. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn said Tuesday that a Facebook whistleblower is set to testify before the same panel next week on the “toxic effects” that company’s platforms have on younger users, according to Reuters

“Sue your way to the moon.” Taking aim at Jeff Bezos once again, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday that “you cannot sue your way to the moon, no matter how good your lawyers are.” The comment, made at Vox Media’s Code Conference in California, followed Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA over a $2.9 billion contract that was recently awarded to SpaceX to develop a lunar lander. 

Robo adviser hits unicorn status. One of the original tech-savvy investing companies, Betterment, has raised $160 million at a valuation of nearly $1.3 billion, according to Bloomberg. The robo adviser has about 700,000 clients with assets of around $32 billion.


The facial recognition conundrum. Governments worldwide have been using facial recognition for years. The pandemic brought it to a new level, though. On both the state and federal level, the technology was deployed in many ways to verify the identities of people applying for public benefits like unemployment, according to the MIT Technology Review. The issue is that, for some, the technology doesn't work. As Anne Washington, an assistant professor of data policy at New York University, told the MIT Technology Review, "The problem is that governments get some kind of technology and it works 95% of the time—they think it's solved. ... They need a system to regularly handle the five people who are waiting." 

From the article:

At first glance, JB, an artist based in Los Angeles, perhaps doesn’t look much like the picture on their driver’s license. For one thing, the ID photo is from a few years ago. Hair that was once long and dark is now buzzed and bleached. And there’s the fact that JB is transgender and has been taking testosterone for over two years, which has led to changing facial features, thicker eyebrows, and acne that wasn’t there before. (They asked to be identified only by their first initials because of privacy concerns.)

JB lost a part-time retail job when the lockdowns hit last March and, like millions of other Americans, attempted to apply for unemployment benefits—never suspecting that their changing appearance would stand in the way. Months after submitting paperwork electronically, and making multiple calls to a hotline that went nowhere, JB was finally invited to use California’s facial recognition system to verify their identity. But even after multiple tries, the system couldn’t match JB’s face and ID photo, shutting them out of the benefits they qualified for. Eventually, JB stopped trying: the process was too frustrating. 


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Amazon’s ad buy may hit Macy’s. Literally. Macy’s is taking its landlord to court over the possibility that its e-commerce foe, Amazon, could take over a massive billboard on the front of Macy’s flagship New York City store, according to Crain’s New York. Talk about an aggressive marketing strategy. 

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