A major online seller of disinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines has had one of its channels removed from YouTube, days after an Associated Press investigation detailed how they work with other spreaders of false information to make money.
The Truth About Vaccines YouTube channel was taken down this week, Ty and Charlene Bollinger said in a post Tuesday on the messaging app Telegram. The Bollingers' channel had about 75,000 subscribers but some of its videos had a much broader reach, including one that had over 1.5 million views and featured Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent voice in the anti-vaccine movement.
A message that greets visitors to the channel says the account was “terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.” YouTube said it terminated the account because it violated its policies barring ”COVID-19 medical misinformation," and had three strikes in a 90-day period. YouTube started banning anti-vaccine misinformation in October.
Still, the Bollingers operate The Truth About Cancer, another YouTube channel with more than 166,000 subscribers. Anyone who goes to that channel and searches “vaccines” will find videos that sow distrust and fear about vaccines or push disinformation about COVID-19. At least one includes debunked falsehoods about the presidential election.
“While that continues, YouTube can’t be said to have taken effective action," said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which monitors online disinformation.
"They’ve taken some action, but they need to act in a comprehensive way against those people they know abuse that platform to spread misinformation that might lead to people not taking cancer medication, not taking crucial vaccines that protect them against disease.” he said. “This is life and death stuff.”
The group earlier this year named the Tennessee couple among its “The Disinformation Dozen," which it said were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine content online. Ahmed said Wednesday that the move would disrupt the couple's business, which relies heavily on free videos to generate sales leads.
But he said YouTube parent Google has known for months about the Bollingers pushing misinformation, and that the removal had taken far too long.