YouTube is cracking down on abortion misinformation on its platform, and has started removing certain videos, according to a series of tweets from the company’s official account posted on Thursday. “Starting today and ramping up over the next few weeks, we will remove content that provides instructions for unsafe abortion methods or promotes false claims about abortion safety,” the YouTubeInsider account posted.
In the wake of the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and the emergence of numerous new state laws banning and criminalizing abortion, some people seeking abortions have turned to the internet for extralegal alternatives. As a result, herbal abortion methods and DIY instructions, which can be very dangerous and are often ineffective, have been proliferating across social media platforms in recent weeks. This sort of content has been most prevalent on TikTok.
At this point, public outcry and rebuttals from medical professionals appear to have overtaken much of the original misinformation in Google first page search results. And TikTok seems to have removed many videos promoting unsafe abortion methods, as well as restricting search terms like “natural abortion” and “herbal abortion.” (Although a Gizmodo search of “abortion natural” did yield results.)
YouTube is owned by Alphabet Inc., the same company that owns Google. Recently the search platform has made some changes to their policies, easing ad restrictions for medication abortion providers. However, Google has also faced recent backlash for directing users to anti-abortion, “crisis pregnancy centres” in searches for abortion clinics, and in Maps.
YouTube’s series of tweets announcing yesterday’s new focus on “unsafe abortion methods” linked to the company’s existing medical misinformation policy, which bars “content that promotes harmful substances, treatments, or substances that present an inherent risk of severe bodily harm or death,” from the site. YouTube further tweeted, “we rely on published guidance from health authorities” and “prioritise connecting people to content from authoritative sources on health topics.”
Additionally, the video platform stated it would be displaying an information panel offering “context and information from local and global health authorities.” YouTube has employed a similar strategy before. Information panels also pop-up with other searches, for instance, those related to covid-19 and vaccination.
The text of the abortion-specific information panel reads: “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or foetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed healthcare professional.”
Important to note though: Many reputable medical sources and lots of scientific research indicate that abortion using the FDA-approved medications mifepristone and misoprostol (or even misoprostol alone) can be self-managed safely and effectively, without the oversight of a doctor. The last sentence of YouTube’s new content statement seems in slight contrast with established knowledge on self-managed medication abortions.
It is unclear if the platform’s new policy could also result in a crackdown on videos explaining how to take abortion pills at home. YouTube did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.