While YouTube is taking a victory lap for expanding its policy to crack down on medical misinformation, COVID-19 misinformation is still alive and well on the platform. As but one example in the past couple of weeks, prominent right-wing propaganda manufacturer Project Veritas has released at least one video full of COVID-19 misinformation that has millions of views and has seemingly suffered no consequences from the platform.
On September 29, YouTube announced it was expanding the platform’s “medical misinformation policies,” supposedly cracking down on a wide array of anti-vaccine content. This announcement was paired with the deplatforming of prominent figures in the anti-vaccine movement including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Mercola. But at the same time, the platform continues to not enforce its policies on the COVID-19 vaccine misinformation from Project Veritas.
YouTube has a long history of not enforcing its own rules when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation, allowing conspiratorial videos like Plandemic to flaunt misinformation guidelines long enough to reach millions of viewers before eventually taking them down. More recently, videos promoting ivermectin as a cure ran rampant on the platform despite the ban on “categorical claims that ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19” and while some of those videos have been taken down, many, like the Project Veritas anti-vaccine video, remain up.
Even before the platform expanded its medical misinformation policy, the Project Veritas' video violated established YouTube policy and yet remained on the platform. YouTube’s pre-expansion COVID-19 medical misinformation guidelines state that among other things, “claims that vaccines cause chronic side effects,” “claims that vaccines do not reduce risk of contracting illness,” and “categorical claims that ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19” are not allowed on the platform. All are present in a recent video posted by Project Veritas.
Project Veritas, run by James O’Keefe, is a right-wing nonprofit known for spreading misinformation about elections, media outlets, and nonprofits through both secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos and via “insiders” -- former employees accusing their organizations of wrongdoing often without basis. It has released three videos so far in a series seeking to sow doubt about the coronavirus vaccines. At least one of these videos seems to directly violate YouTube guidelines and has remained on the platform with 4.5 million views as of October 1. Although YouTube has been touting the platform’s expanded commitment to combating vaccine misinformation, even under the old standards these videos were likely violative -- casting doubt on the efficacy of the new policy as well.
The video “Federal Govt HHS Whistleblower Goes Public with Secret Recordings “Vaccine is Full of Sh*t” airs the claims of “insider” Jodi O’Malley, a nurse at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center — a hospital run by a subsection of the Department of Health and Human Services. O’Malley lists three patients she believes experienced unreported side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, including a former co-worker who passed away. But she provides no evidence for a connection between the vaccine and her co-worker's death and does not disclose which vaccine that individual received. O’Malley also claims a young male patient’s blood was clotting after taking the Pfizer vaccine, even though blood clots are an extremely rare side effect associated with the Johnson & Johnson shot.
The video also includes several secretly recorded clips of fellow employees at the hospital, including a doctor saying “the darn vaccine is full of shit” without context or evidence. Millions of people have received the vaccines approved for use in the United States. They are considered safe and effective. Even if a vaccinated individual does contract COVID-19, the vaccines significantly lessen the likelihood of severe illness and hospitalization. They are anything but “full of shit.”
O’Malley also pushes ivermectin, saying there are “no adverse reactions for trying it.” O’Keefe plays footage of conversation between O’Malley and a colleague in which the colleague states that she is “stuck” because even if a doctor suggests use of ivermectin, she will lose her job if she gives it to patients “as it is not allowed at this facility.” O’Malley frames the use of ivermectin as “effective and surely has no adverse reactions for trying it.” In reality, ivermectin is an anti-parasite medication, and while it is currently in clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment, there is scant evidence it actually works. The drug can also be dangerous, as overdoses can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, among other side effects.
YouTube may have deleted some more anti-vaccine channels with the announcement of its expanded vaccine misinformation policy, but the platform has been consistently unable to properly enforce its old COVID-19 rules. YouTube has allowed Project Veritas to flaunt its rules for well over a week (gaining millions of views in the process) while spreading dangerous misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.