Impossibility Of Content Moderation: Scientist Debunking Vaccine Myths Gets A YouTube Strike For Medical Misinfo
from the it's-tougher-than-you-think dept
Here’s another one in our never ending series on the impossibility of doing content moderation at scale, and how (all too frequently) people trying to expose bad behavior are punished as if they’re promoting bad behavior.
This involves a scientist who streams on YouTube as Scientist Mel, and tries to educate people about science, including debunking bad science takes. This included a recent two hour episode debunking anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. The video does look at a bunch of ridiculous conspiracy theories and scientific claptrap and nonsense… and then debunks it. But, YouTube dinged her channel for misinformation:
My entire channel promotes the correct information while talking about why the myths are wrong. FIX THIS. pic.twitter.com/hQWOvwUuDi
— Mel ??????????Get Vaccinated! (@ScientistMel) August 25, 2021
And… look, you can see how this happens, right? You have reviewers with limited time and a two hour video is a lot to take in. And in skimming through the video, you will come across conspiracy theory nonsense regarding COVID and COVID treatments. But it’s there so that Mel can debunk it. So… Mel appealed the strikes. And YouTube upheld the appeal, claiming “we reviewed your content carefully, and have confirmed that it violates our medical misinformation policy.” They were condescendingly nice about it in their form email: “We know this is probably disappointing news, but it’s our job to make sure that YouTube is a safe place for all.” Yeah, that’s not what this is doing, of course.
— Mel ??????????Get Vaccinated! (@ScientistMel) August 27, 2021
Of course, as this started to get a bit more attention… on Twitter… suddenly YouTube realized it might have made a mistake, and over the weekend admitted it was a mistake and the strike was removed (and the video returned).
We've checked & it looks like the video is now back up & the warning's resolved. We're sorry this happened ? feedback has been shared with the right team to help improve our review processes and prevent this from happening in the future. We're here if you have other questions.
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) August 28, 2021
So, in this case, the end result worked out — but like so many cases, that only happened once the initial “bad” result started to get some attention elsewhere (Twitter being the world’s best “consumer complaint” forum).
Of course, I’m sympathetic to both ends of this argument. I can see why this clearly erroneous strike/takedown sucks for Mel. But I can also see exactly how it happens. When tons of people are screaming at every social media site out there to make sure they take down any medical misinformation, and videos often involve (as in this case) multiple hours of content, it’s literally impossible to review them completely and understand the context in which the conspiracy theory nonsense was shown. That doesn’t excuse YouTube messing up the appeal, of course, but the appeals process apparently isn’t particularly robust, and likely suffers from the same limitations as the initial review.
And this kind of issue is only going to get worse and worse as various laws around the world demand that “bad” information be removed quickly or websites will face significant liability.