TTP Investigation: YouTube Fails to Remove Vaccine Conspiracies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 1, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing that YouTube is failing to deliver on its October 2020 promise to ban all videos containing misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. TTP’s investigation, conducted seven months after the policy was first implemented, found numerous videos promoting baseless allegations that COVID-19 vaccines have been linked to deaths and miscarriage, contain fetal byproducts, or can cause transmissible health risks. Some of the videos even ran with ads, allowing purveyors of vaccine misinformation—and Google—to make money off these lies.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “YouTube’s inability to purge videos spouting lies about Covid-19 vaccines not only provides conspiracy theorists with a safe haven, it in many cases enriches them. The fact that a small team of researchers can find these videos through open-source methods while YouTube—with its vast budget and internal tools—cannot, suggests a lack of sincerity behind its content moderation promises.”
The videos identified by TTP range from baseless conspiracy theories claiming that Bill Gates caused the pandemic in order to sterilize or kill groups of people, to unfounded claims of “vaccine shedding,” which posits that vaccinated people can transmit side effects to unvaccinated individuals with whom they come into contact. In one video, an anti-vaccine advocate warns vaccine shedding can cause “blood clots, menstrual irregularities, heavy bleeding, [and] cardiovascular side effects.” This video was monetized, meaning that both the creator and Google were profiting from the dangerous claims.
It’s likely that advertisers whose ads appear alongside these videos have no idea that their company’s name is being associated with anti-vaccine disinformation. In the previously mentioned video describing the supposed effects of “vaccine shedding,” an ad for vacation home rental website Vrbo was shown. TTP was even served an ad from the American Lung Association encouraging vaccine adoption alongside a video claiming that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain harmful substances that could “cost you your life.”
TTP also found numerous examples of vaccine skeptics using YouTube to direct viewers to third-party sites containing vaccine conspiracies and misinformation. These YouTube posts often contain innocuous or unrelated video content but point viewers to anti-vaccine content on other sites.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Regardless of whether or not these channels are making conscious efforts to get around the ban on vaccine disinformation, YouTube needs to do a better job of stopping these videos from spreading. Failure to remove these videos is a public health risk, so YouTube must devote whatever resources are necessary to fix this situation.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.