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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

YouTube announced Thursday that it is expanding its hate and harassment policies to prohibit content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories, like QAnon, that have been used to justify real-world violence.

Why it matters: It is the latest tech giant to crack down on QAnon content, which has seen record online interest in 2020.

Catch up quick: QAnon is a sprawling, far-right conspiracy theory that falsely alleges a secret cabal of sex traffickers and pedophiles is waging a war against President Trump from inside the government.

  • Trump has previously praised the movement, which the FBI has deemed a potential domestic terrorist threat, saying that he understands its supporters "like me very much" and that they "love America."

The state of play: YouTube said that the policy applies to content that threatens or harasses someone by suggesting they are complicit in harmful conspiracy theories, like QAnon or Pizzagate.

  • The tech giant added that news coverage on these issues or content discussing them that doesn't target individuals or protected groups — veterans, people with disabilities, etc. — may stay up.

Between the lines: YouTube also said that its efforts to refine its policies over the past two years have helped to curb QAnon-linked content.

  • It said the steps it introduced nearly two years ago to limit the reach of harmful misinformation have resulted in an 80% drop in views of QAnon content via its search and discovery systems.
  • The company noted it has removed tens of thousands of QAnon videos and hundreds of channels to date, focusing on those that explicitly threaten violence or "deny the existence of major violent events."

The big picture: Tech platforms have been caught flat-footed trying to manage the spread of conspiracy-linked content on their platforms because the content often does not violate existing hate speech or harassment policies.

  • In the wake of calls for violence around the election, Big Tech is trying to get ahead of the broader harm that conspiracy content can have on society.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 21, 2021 - Technology

Facebook refers Trump ban to independent Oversight Board for review

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's independent Oversight Board has accepted a referral from the platform to review its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump.

Why it matters: While Trump critics largely praised the company's decision to remove the then-president's account for potential incitement of violence, many world leaders and free speech advocates pushed back on the decision, arguing it sets a dangerous precedent for free speech moving forward.

U.S: Nord Stream 2 "will not move forward" if Russia invades Ukraine

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. will make sure the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany won't go ahead if Russian troops invade Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told NPR on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Germany's ambassador to the U.S. appeared to support Price's strong rhetoric on the strategically significant pipeline that would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion, per Axios' Zachary Basu.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.