As part of a new set of policies designed to cut down on anti-vaccine content and health misinformation, YouTube is starting to ban any videos that claim commonly used vaccines approved by health authorities are ineffective or dangerous. The video sharing platform, and others, including Facebook and Twitter, had already banned misinformation related to the COVID-19 vaccines. This takes the crackdown one step further, with YouTube taking down anti-vaccine posts as well as the accounts of people who spread false information about other vaccines.
Critics and people who have propagated vaccine misinformation on the social media platform immediately decried the move as a violation of their First Amendment protection of free speech—a fundamental misunderstanding of free speech protections, says Claudia Haupt, associate professor of law and political science at Northeastern.
The First Amendment, which protects free speech in the U.S., applies to government censorship of protected speech, but not to private companies such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. “But just because the First Amendment doesn’t apply here, doesn’t mean that there aren’t tricky questions” for platforms deciding which posts stay and which are taken down, Haupt says.