YouTube has removed over 500,000 videos containing false or misleading information about COVID-19 since February last year, said its CEO Susan Wojcicki in a recent update addressed to YouTube content creators. Like many other tech companies, YouTube has been trying to showcase its efforts against falsehoods even as the platform has become a repository for COVID theories that range from doubtful to the absurdly wild.
“We’ve updated our policies to remove egregious medical misinformation about COVID-19 to prohibit things like saying the virus is a hoax or promoting medically unsubstantiated cures in place of seeking treatment,” wrote Wojcicki. She also said the company is now reaching out to its countless content creators to help spread accurate and up-to-date information about the vaccines.
YouTube has an official policy document explaining what considers as COVID misinformation. And that document can be described as both amusing and depressing – given that it’s a window into the sort of nonsense people are uploading to the platform.
Among the examples listed of content not allowed on YouTube are: “claims that COVID-19 is caused by radiation from 5G networks” and “claims that the COVID-19 vaccine will contain a microchip or tracking device.” But the best of all is this: “videos alleging that if you avoid Asian food, you won’t get the coronavirus” – that’s clearly why COVID numbers in Malaysia are on the rise (we’re being sarcastic, of course).
This all isn’t to detract from the scale of the problem that YouTube is wrestling with. Last year, a study published by BMJ Global Health found that over a quarter of the most-viewed English YouTube videos on COVID-19 gave out misleading or false information. The problem has probably gotten a lot worse since then.