The rash of bogus conspiracy theories tying the COVID-19 pandemic to 5G has led to cell tower arson and threats against engineers, and YouTube is planning to crack down on that misinformation. The Google-owned service said it will remove videos that try to make the unsupported connection, as they violate recent policies banning videos promoting "medically unsubstantiated methods" of preventing coronavirus infections. However, it's stopping short of removing all 5G conspiracy videos.
Instead, YouTube said it was suppressing "borderline content" that could mislead people in "harmful ways," such as conspiracy theories surrounding 5G and the virus by themselves. This includes both reduced recommendations for videos, pulling them from search results and stripping them of ad revenue.
The moves come not long after a Guardian report that UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden would hold talks with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a bid to remove conspiracy material.
YouTube's actions could help prevent further attacks, which might be vital at a time when remote connections are more important than ever. However, the mixed approach also highlights concerns about inconsistent enforcement that bans some videos while letting equally false clips slide. Conspiracy theories about 5G are unsupported by evidence, and remain harmful whether or not the new coronavirus plays a part. YouTube's approach may tackle the immediate situation, but doesn't completely address long-term problems with anti-5G conspiracists spurring violence.