The video-sharing site YouTube said Friday it would be banning all “misleading or inaccurate” videos and clips “that create confusion about medical fact and treatment.”
The move toward new policy came in response to dozens of new cases linked to an outbreak of measles in Los Angeles — mostly in Latino areas — after an anti-vaccination message was posted on the site in 2017.
The outbreak prompted health officials from several Southern California counties to issue a joint statement Friday in which they said “trends on social media and easily accessible misinformation on the internet are directly contributing to preventable disease outbreaks across California.”
In addition to barring all videos “that misinform viewers about medical issues, YouTube will enforce stricter policies on infectious disease content, raising the potential for potentially exclusion-worthy content.”
In the Southern California outbreak, which has infected around 700 people, or about 1 in 28 in the Los Angeles County area, residents were told to get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — and they agreed to do so, but then they saw anti-vaccination comments in videos.
Dr. Gil Chavez, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in the joint statement Friday: “The California Department of Public Health, in close collaboration with public health professionals throughout the state, has identified a number of videos on YouTube that have contributed to a significant measles outbreak in our state. The most serious consequence of this outbreak is the potential for more parents to avoid vaccinating their children. Vaccination is the most cost-effective way to protect against measles, as well as related illnesses.”
In a blog post Friday, a YouTube spokesman wrote: “While we’ve only received very limited reports of this type of video recently, we are working to update and strengthen our policies to better protect families, particularly parents.”
The policy change is not a surprise, considering the recent measles outbreak in the southern part of the state — though it’s not clear how a vast number of anti-vaccination videos led to the measles outbreak, which now ranks as the second largest in the U.S. in recent history, according to health officials.
The California Department of Public Health, in a news release Friday, said that online misinformation is “concerning when it can influence choice of potentially life-saving vaccines.”
“When a person is concerned about vaccinations, [it] places other people at risk,” the department said.
The state department’s joint statement also said that “comments on medical content on YouTube have been found to contain misleading information, especially about vaccinations, and generally communicate that there is no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism. This has led to an increase in autism diagnoses.”
The statement said that the department is “more deeply involved” in keeping YouTube operators accountable for what they share.
On Friday, the department’s Department of Consumer Affairs released an online petition in an effort to make all YouTube videos on autism subject to the same regulation. In the petition, it noted the growth of the percentage of autism diagnosis that is made through medical professionals.
“From 1995 through 2011, the percentage of autism diagnosis made through medical professionals increased from 1.15 percent to 10.9 percent,” the department said. “This increase in autism diagnosed cases can be linked to a growing interest in autism online and the acceleration of coverage on autism on television and television programs. This trend is raising questions about whether content producers are accurately reporting on this situation, thus misleading viewers.”
In a press conference Friday, though, the new YouTube policy issued by the company stated: “We will continue to work to help further educate you, but we don’t know how long this will take or how much work we will have to do.”