Apr 7, 2020 - Technology

YouTube pulls coronavirus misinformation videos

Ina Fried, author of Login

YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

YouTube's product chief tells Axios that the Google-owned video site has removed thousands of COVID-19 videos — including some from the Brazilian president's channel — for violating policies related to the spread of medical misinformation.

Why it matters: Though criticized in the past for allowing misinformation to flourish, Facebook, Google and Twitter have all been taking a tougher stand when it comes to the coronavirus.

What they're saying: In an interview, Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said YouTube has been focused on a twofold approach: making authoritative information more prominent and aggressively removing policy-violating content.

  • YouTube has been prominently surfacing videos from news organizations and health officials.
  • It's even been showing an information panel on its home page linking to national health agencies' websites — the first time YouTube has linked to a text site rather than a video. The panel has now been shown more than 9 billion times, Mohan said.
  • It's also worked with creators, including several who interviewed U.S. infectious disease prevention chief Anthony Fauci.

Meanwhile: YouTube is also aggressively enforcing existing medical misinformation policies that prohibit promoting false cures or encouraging people not to see a doctor.

  • And it expanded that policy to bar promoting actions that go against recommendations from national health authorities.
  • It was on that basis that the company took down posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus and the importance of social distancing and other precautions.

Be smart: In all, Mohan said, YouTube has removed thousands of videos.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, YouTube's policies are entirely focused on the content of a video and not who is doing the speaking. That means politicians, journalists, and entertainers are all held to the same standard, at least in theory.

Mohan was more equivocal when asked if someone could post, say, a video suggesting people try a medicine that had yet to be approved by the FDA for treating the coronavirus.

"That gets at the challenge," Mohan acknowledged. "It's a balancing act.... We are not medical experts ourselves."

Mohan said that he has other product changes on his to-do list, but acknowledges the virus and related issues have occupied most of his attention.

  • "We are heads-down on this challenge," he said. "When we come up for air we will take a look."

Go deeper: Coronavirus inspires divergent messages and misinformation

Correction: This story originally said that YouTube, unlike Facebook and Google, based its misinformation policy solely on the content rather than who is saying it. That should have said that, unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google and YouTube both base their decisions solely on content, while Twitter and Facebook have some different policies for certain people, such as politicians.

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