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YouTube Revamps Medical Misinformation Guidelines for Video Content

The medical misinformation guidelines will assess whether YouTube video content contradicts local health authorities or the World Health Organization.

YouTube is continuing its efforts to combat online medical misinformation by further clarifying how it will assess online video content.

The Google-owned social media platform said it will zero in on medical misinformation regarding cancer treatment due to the significant public health risk cancer poses.

“As medical information – and misinformation – continuously evolves, YouTube needs a policy framework that holds up in the long term, and preserves the important balance of removing egregiously harmful content while ensuring space for debate and discussion,” Garth Graham, MD, the Director and Global Head of Healthcare and Public Health Partnerships, wrote with Matt Halprin, YouTube’s VP and Global Head of Trust and Safety.

“While specific medical guidance can change over time as we learn more, our goal is to ensure that when it comes to areas of well-studied scientific consensus, YouTube is not a platform for distributing information that could harm people,” the pair said in a blog post announcing the updates.

Graham and Halprin acknowledged that assessing YouTube content for medical misinformation is a difficult task. When does a YouTube video stop being a space for creative free speech and turn into a public health messaging platform?

The pair said that YouTube will begin evaluating videos as part of the scope of its medical misinformation policies based on the public health risk the video is associated with and the publicly available guidance from health authorities. The social media and video platform will also look at whether a topic is generally prone to misinformation.

From there, YouTube will consider videos based on three areas of interest: prevention misinformation, treatment misinformation, and denial misinformation.

Prevention misinformation entails videos that contradict health authority recommendations for preventive treatment. This may include misinformation about vaccinations or the transmission and prevention of certain illnesses. It may also include videos that promote incorrect use of a certain substance for disease prevention.

Treatment misinformation entails peddling information that contradicts science-backed medical guidance. This might mean discouraging people from accessing medical treatments or encouraging people to use alternative treatments in place of proven therapies.

Finally, denial misinformation involves videos that claim certain medical conditions exist. This would include videos that claim that nobody has died from COVID-19, YouTube stated.

YouTube is rolling out these updates by looking at videos about cancer treatment, which it said is a key area for investigation due to the very high public health risk that cancer poses.

“When cancer patients and their loved ones are faced with a diagnosis, they often turn to online spaces to research symptoms, learn about treatment journeys, and find community,” Graham and Halprin explained. “Our mission is to make sure that when they turn to YouTube, they can easily find high-quality content from credible health sources.”

In addition to cancer’s significant public health risk, YouTube noted that there is widespread scientific consensus about cancer treatment. Finally, cancer treatment is an area with high potential for medical misinformation.

Graham and Halprin said YouTube will start removing videos that violate its medical misinformation community guidelines. This includes videos that are harmful, that discourage viewers from accessing science-backed cancer treatment, or that promote unproven or unsafe treatments.

For example, YouTube would remove a video that falsely advocates that garlic can cure cancer or that patients should take vitamin C instead of radiation therapy, the pair offered.

Again, monitoring and assessing videos for violating medical misinformation guidelines is difficult and requires nuance, YouTube said. The platform said it will take context into consideration when determining whether to remove a video.

“This means that we may allow content that is sufficiently in the public interest to remain on YouTube, even if it otherwise violates our policies – for example, a video of a public hearing or comments made by national political candidates on the campaign trail that disputes health authority guidance, or graphic footage from active warzones or humanitarian crises,” Graham and Halprin wrote.

This also includes personal testimonies or videos discussing specific medical cases, they added.

While this context is important, Graham and Halprin said it would not guarantee that a video may remain on the website. Additionally, YouTube reserves the right to add age restrictions or add informational panels beneath certain videos when it deems necessary.

In addition to culling YouTube of videos that violate medical misinformation community guidelines, the platform said it will add more videos from scientific and expert creators. Particularly, YouTube has added a new playlist of cancer-related videos from what it said are authoritative sources. Moving forward, the platform will also be collaborating with the Mayo Clinic on videos.

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