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YouTube says it will crack down on abortion misinformation

July 22, 2022, 9:12 PM UTC
Woman holding phone with youtube
Youtube will start removing videos that provide instructions for unsafe abortion methods or spread disinformation about the procedure.
Fabian Sommer—picture alliance/Getty Images

Nearly a month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, YouTube said it will start removing videos that provide instructions for unsafe abortion methods or spread disinformation about the procedure. 

The video-sharing platform announced on Thursday that it will ban content that violates its medical misinformation policy, starting this week and “ramping up over the next few weeks.” 

In late May ahead of the overturn, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki shared her personal view in support of abortion rights with Fortune Editor-in-Chief, Alyson Shontell, at the World Economic Forum.

“I believe reproductive rights are human rights, and to take away a law and a right that we’ve had for almost 50 years will be a big setback for women,” she said, adding that YouTube was waiting to see the Supreme Court’s final draft opinion before having high-level discussions. 

At the forum, Wojcicki discussed the potential issues that could come out of such a decision, including the risk of content misinformation: “People saying abortion is not really allowed in this state, when it really is. We are trying to figure it out.” 

The Supreme Court’s ruling that there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion came and went on June 24. And as numerous states outright banned or severely restricted access to abortion procedures, YouTube stayed silent on the matter. 

This week, the company finally followed up on the threat of misinformation that Wojcicki flagged in May. In its announcement, YouTube linked its current policies prohibiting any content that “promotes harmful substances, treatments, or substances that present an inherent risk of severe bodily harm or death” or “contradicts local health authorities’ or WHO guidance on certain safe medical practices.” YouTube says it will remove videos that violate these guidelines and terminate channels that become repeat offenders.

Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, said of the policy change: “We believe it’s important to connect people to content from authoritative sources regarding health topics, and we continuously review our policies and products as real world events unfold.” 

Choi gave an example of a false claim that would go against Youtube’s new policies and possibly prompt the removal of a video — that abortions place people at high risk of infertility or cancer in most or all cases.

Amid fear from the Roe overturn, some social media users began promoting dangerous herbs that they claimed would induce a miscarriage or at-home abortion, often using coded language. Posted on platforms like TikTok, these videos accumulated millions of views. But medical professionals warn that unproven herbal solutions are almost always toxic to the pregnant person and could cause severe side effects, like liver failure and even death. 

A TikTok spokesperson told NBC News that it would “take action on the content that violates our Community Guidelines on medical misinformation,” removing videos and redirecting results for associated hashtags #herbalabortion, #pennyroyalteaabortion, and #mugwortabortion.

It’s unclear how common videos recommending unsafe abortion methods were on YouTube. As of Friday afternoon, search results mostly consisted of videos discussing the ingredients in the context of other non-related purposes or media outlets warning about herbal abortions.

YouTube’s crackdown coincides with its launch of an informational panel that will add context to abortion-related videos and search results. Now, when a viewer searches “abortion” and other key terms on YouTube, a pop-up at the top provides a definition and redirects them to a National Library of Medicine page. 

In the past, YouTube has carried out similar policies to curb misinformation around vaccines and the 2020 election. 

July 25, 2022: This article was updated with a statement from YouTube

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