Over the last few months, YouTube has quietly removed or changed many of its COVID censorship rules which resulted in numerous videos and creators being censored throughout 2020 and 2021.
Collectively, these changes to YouTube's “COVID-19 medical misinformation” mean that users are now allowed to question or dispute whether the vaccines reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, question or dispute the effectiveness of masks and social distancing, say that the symptoms and contagiousness of COVID-19 are equal to or less severe than the common cold or seasonal flu, and declare that the pandemic is over.
All prohibitions on statements about masks, social distancing, and self-isolation have been removed from YouTube's “COVID-19 medical misinformation” policy. Additionally, one ban on statements about vaccines has been removed from the policy and several of the rules related to vaccines have been changed.
Previously, YouTube banned claims that:
- “The virus no longer exists or that the pandemic is over”
- “COVID-19 vaccines are not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19”
- “Wearing a mask is dangerous or causes negative physical health effects”
- “Masks do not play a role in preventing the contraction or transmission”
- “Wearing a mask causes oxygen levels to drop to dangerous levels”
- “Masks cause lung cancer or brain damage”
- “Wearing a mask gives you COVID-19”
- “Content that disputes the efficacy of local health authorities' or WHO's [World Health Organization's] guidance on physical distancing or self-isolation measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19”
- “Videos alleging that social distancing and self-isolation are not effective in reducing the spread of the virus”
All of the rules banning these specific claims have now been removed from the policy.
The policy's previous ban on “claims that COVID-19 vaccines do not reduce risk of contracting COVID-19” has been changed to a ban on “claims that COVID-19 vaccines do not reduce risk of serious illness or death.”
And the policy's previous ban on “claims that the symptoms, death rates, or contagiousness of COVID-19 are less severe or equally as severe as the common cold or seasonal flu” has been changed to “claims that the death rate of COVID-19 is equal to or less than that of the common cold or seasonal flu.”
YouTube made these changes to its COVID-19 medical misinformation policy sometime between April 4, 2022 and May 18, 2022.
Before making these changes, YouTube removed more than a million videos for breaking its COVID-19 misinformation rules. Many high-profile figures, including Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie, were censored after questioning the effectiveness of masks or vaccines.
Not only did the tech giant censor these claims that it's now decided are allowed but it also regularly publicized its censorship of so-called COVID-19 misinformation. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was pointing to the platform's COVID-19 censorship rules as recently as May 24 (after YouTube had quietly walked back many of its COVID censorship rules) at an event where she said “there'll always be work that we have to do” to censor “misinformation.”
However, these changes that walk back much of the COVID-19 censorship were made quietly and have received little publicity. And many of those who were censored under the old rules still haven't had their channels or videos restored.