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YouTube bans content that contradicts WHO's Covid-19 advice

Image credit: REUTERS/Kham

YouTube has decided to remove any content relating to the coronavirus pandemic which directly contradicts advice from the WHO.

In her first interview since the world went into lockdown in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that the platform would stamp out “problematic” claims on the platform, including anything “medically unsubstantiated”.

“People saying “Take Vitamin C, take turmeric we’ll cure you”, those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy,” Wojcicki said, speaking on CNN’s Reliable Sources. “Anything that would go against [WHO] recommendations would be a violation of our policy.”

The decision to base judgements on WHO recommendations could cause some confusion and controversy, given inconsistencies in public health advice between the WHO and national governments. For instance, while the WHO has said that there is little evidence that non-medical masks act as a useful preventive measure to infection, some American and German citizens are required to wear masks in public places. The WHO has also faced accusations of geopolitical bias after a top WHO official appeared to avoid questions about the self-governing state of Taiwan in a television interview. Taiwan – which is locked out of the WHO on account of China’s membership – is widely acknowledged as one of the few places which successfully contained the spread of Covid-19.

Social media platforms have been promoting authoritative information from generally trusted organisations like the WHO, NHS, and Centre for Disease Control. Wojcicki said that YouTube had seen a 75 per cent increase in demand for news from “authoritative sources”.

Social media platforms including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are under increased pressure to clamp down on misinformation and disinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far resulted in more than 185,000 confirmed deaths around the world. The pandemic has led to an “infodemic” of false – sometimes dangerous or incendiary – claims spread by various groups.

For instance, a recent spate of attacks on mobile masts and telecommunications engineers in the UK – including at least 20 arson attacks against mobile masts during the four-day Easter weekend – forced YouTube to slap a ban on all videos promoting unfounded conspiracies linking 5G technology with the pandemic. An interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke, livestreamed on YouTube, in which he linked Covid-19 with the rollout of the next-generation wireless technology, was credited with fuelling interest in the 5G theory.

Facebook has also made efforts to prevent the spread of 5G conspiracies and other disinformation by promoting WHO information about Covid-19 to users who have interacted with deceptive content about the disease, and by limiting message forwarding on encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.

The culture secretary Oliver Dowden has welcomed the efforts of social media platforms: “I pay tribute to the work they have done,” he commented, addressing the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee this week. However, he called on the companies to speed up their response to false information during evenings and weekends in order to “nip this kind of stuff in the bud”.

During his appearance before the committee, Dowden said that the Cabinet Office is rebutting approximately 70 false claims about the coronavirus pandemic every week.

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