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YouTube to prohibit false claims about cancer treatments under its medical misinformation policy


By Clare Duffy, CNN

New York (CNN) — YouTube announced Tuesday that it will start removing false claims about cancer treatments as part of an ongoing effort to build out its medical misinformation policy.

Under the updated policy, YouTube will prohibit “content that promotes cancer treatments proven to be harmful or ineffective, or content that discourages viewers from seeking professional medical treatment,” Dr. Garth Graham, head of YouTube Health, said in a blog post Tuesday.

“This includes content that promotes unproven treatments in place of approved care or as a guaranteed cure, and treatments that have been specifically deemed harmful by health authorities,” he said, such as the misleading claim that patients should “take vitamin C instead of radiation therapy.”

The update is just one of several steps YouTube has made in recent years to build out its medical misinformation policy, which also prohibits false claims about vaccines and abortions, as well as content that promotes or glorifies eating disorders.

As part of the announcement, YouTube is rolling out a broader updated medical misinformation policy framework that will consider content in three categories: prevention, treatment and denial.

“To determine if a condition, treatment or substance is in scope of our medical misinformation policies, we’ll evaluate whether it’s associated with a high public health risk, publicly available guidance from health authorities around the world, and whether it’s generally prone to misinformation,” Graham said. He added that YouTube will take action on content that falls into that framework and “contradicts local health authorities or the World Health Organization.”

Graham said the policy is designed to preserve “the important balance of removing egregiously harmful content while ensuring space for debate and discussion.”

Cancer treatment fits YouTube’s updated medical misinformation framework because the disease poses a high public health risk and is a topic prone to frequent misinformation, and because there is “stable consensus about safe cancer treatments from local and global health authorities,” Graham said.

As with many social media policies, however, the challenge often isn’t introducing it but enforcing it. YouTube says its restrictions on cancer treatment misinformation will go into effect on Tuesday and enforcement will ramp up in the coming weeks. The company has previously said it uses both human and automated moderation to review videos and their context.

YouTube also plans to promote cancer-related content from the Mayo Clinic and other authoritative sources.

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