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YouTube Suspends US Network for Misinformation

A portion of the OAN home page on the internet. (Web screenshot)
A portion of the OAN home page on the internet. (Web screenshot)

A U.S. network has been suspended from YouTube for a week for a video that the social media platform says violated its coronavirus misinformation policy.

As of Tuesday, the conservative One America News Network (OAN) was suspended from uploading videos and livestreams to YouTube for one week. The platform, owned by Google, also suspended OAN from its Partner Program, which lets channels earn money through advertising and subscriptions.

The YouTube logo
The YouTube logo

The suspension was imposed for a video that YouTube determined was in violation of its rules about the pandemic, which include not sharing misinformation about treatments or the virus.

“Since early in this pandemic, we’ve worked to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation associated with COVID-19 on YouTube,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, said in a statement shared with VOA. “After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure.”

YouTube did not directly say what the video showed.

OAN provided VOA with a link to the video it says led to the YouTube suspension. The video questions whether a vaccine or lockdown measures are necessary and discusses hydroxychloroquine.

The anti-malaria drug has proved to be ineffective against the coronavirus in several studies.

YouTube has a three-strikes policy. Users issued with three strikes for violating a policy within 90 days are permanently removed from the platform.

Choi said that because of repeated violations of YouTube’s COVID-19 misinformation policy and monetization policies, OAN was suspended “from the YouTube Partner Program and as a result, its monetization on YouTube.”

Channels can reapply for the Partner Program but must show they have addressed the issues that led to their removal, YouTube says.

In a statement shared with VOA, OAN said that the video flagged by YouTube was not public, but unlisted “for review by internal OAN staff only.”

The network said it would abide by policies for video available on YouTube but “OAN will not let YouTube’s arbitrary rules infringe upon its First Amendment editorial rights to inform the public."

COVID authorities

OAN added, “It is our understanding that YouTube only recognizes two authorities for COVID-19, namely the CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local county health experts. We believe that the opinions of frontline doctors should also be heard, regardless if their views agree or differ from the CDC.”

The conservative cable network OAN was founded in 2013 and has 1.22 million YouTube subscribers.

The network has been supportive of President Donald Trump, who has shared and praised its reporting. OAN amplified Trump's unsupported claims of voter fraud in the U.S. presidential election, Reuters reported. Earlier this year, Trump shared an unsubstantiated report by OAN that a man knocked to the ground by police in Buffalo, New York, was part of antifa, an umbrella term for left-leaning militant groups.

Trump also praised OAN in a November 15 tweet about Fox News, saying, “Many great alternatives are forming & exist,” and recommending his followers try the network.

The influence of social media companies on American politics has become a potent issue in Washington in recent years. Politicians often complain that the platforms and their moderation policies are unfair to certain political factions or are worsening political tensions by spreading false and divisive content.

Congress questioned the heads of Twitter and Facebook last week about policies, including on content moderation, with Republicans asking about claims that social media platforms flag or remove more posts from conservative voices.

The platforms deny bias and say they are enforcing policies on hate speech and disinformation.

During the hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Google has been given a "pass" and was being rewarded for its "timidity" in content moderation.

Letter to YouTube CEO

Also on Tuesday, four Democratic senators sent a letter to YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, urging the platform to remove content that they said spread misinformation on election results.

Since February, YouTube has removed 200,000 videos that it determined contained dangerous or misleading information about the novel coronavirus. The platform says it has expanded its policies on medical information to include possible threats to misinformation about the pandemic and treatments for COVID-19.

Some information in this report is from Reuters.