YouTube has removed ads from videos that promoted anti-vaccination rhetoric and violated its ad policies, BuzzFeed News reported Friday. The site reported that at least seven advertisers were unaware that their brands were being attached to this kind of content and despite the fact that YouTube’s ad policies aren’t new.
“We have strict policies that govern what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that promote anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies,” a spokesperson for YouTube told Gizmodo in a statement by email. “We enforce these policies vigorously, and if we find a video that violates them we immediately take action and remove ads.”
Those policies state that ads are not appropriate for YouTube videos that promote “harmful or dangerous acts that result in serious physical, emotional, or psychological injury,” which includes anti-vaxxer content. Even still, BuzzFeed News said that ads populated on multiple channels that dealt in anti-vaccination narratives. One of the channels that have since been demonetized, VAXXED TV, has more than 55,000 subscribers and has posted dozens of videos linking vaccines to autism or alleged other injuries. (There is no scientific evidence to support claims that vaccines cause autism.)
In a separate report on anti-vaxxer content on the platform published earlier this week, BuzzFeed News reported that YouTube was promoting these videos in its suggested content column, even on informational videos about immunization. YouTube said in a blog post in January that it was working to reduce misinformation and conspiracy theory content on its site, but the company says tweaking its algorithm will take time.
“Like many algorithmic changes, these efforts will be gradual and will get more and more accurate over time,” a spokesperson for the company told BuzzFeed News.
The reports arrive amid an ongoing measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that’s reignited conversations about exemption laws that allow parents or guardians to opt out of vaccinating children for personal or philosophical reasons. According to the Washington Department of Health, at least 65 cases of measles have been confirmed in the outbreak since the start of the year. Officials say that misinformation about vaccinations makes parents hesitant to vaccinate their kids.
“In the 25 years that I’ve known about immunizations and the controversy over it, there are things on the web and there are organisations that say that vaccinations cause autism and that’s why some parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated,” Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring told the Columbian last month.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that in an attempt to curb anti-vaccination content on its own platform, Pinterest no longer returns results on any vaccine-related search. Ifeoma Ozoma, the company’s public policy and social impact manager, told the Journal that it is “better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole.”