Sky News Australia purges several videos from YouTube after ban over Covid misinformation

Sky News Australia has purged several videos promoting unproven Covid-19 treatments from its YouTube page ahead of the scheduled lifting of its suspension from the platform.

Sky News was on Thursday banned for a week from uploading any new content to YouTube or live streaming after violating the social media site’s medical misinformation policies.

In a statement on the decision, YouTube said “specifically, we don’t allow content that denies the existence of Covid-19 or that encourages people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus”.

Sky News and YouTube have not said which videos led to the ban, but Guardian Australia found that at least six videos from Alan Jones and the Outsiders program discussing hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin had been deleted by YouTube for violating community guidelines.

Guardian Australia later found six more videos that mention the unproven Covid treatments were still on Sky News’ YouTube channel as of Tuesday morning.

After questions were sent to YouTube about why the policy had been applied to some videos but not others, many of the videos were deleted. Unlike those removed by YouTube – which clearly state they were removed by YouTube for violating community guidelines – these videos state they were removed by the uploader, Sky News.

The newly deleted videos include Outsiders host Rowan Dean in September 2020 stating “the jury is in on hydroxychloroquine – it saves lives”, and Jones saying there had been “rank dishonesty” around hydroxychloroquine and Australians were being denied access.

In another removed video published in September 2020, then Liberal MP Craig Kelly claimed “study after study that shows that hydroxychloroquine, when administered early, can lower the rates of [covid] infections”.

A video featuring Andrew Bolt speaking to Australian gastroenterologist Prof Thomas Borody about ivermectin use in treating Covid was also taken down.

Guardian Australia has sought comment from Sky News and YouTube.

Sky News has previously said all the videos that were initially removed were “old”, however Guardian Australia understands the videos deleted by YouTube include content from this year, as well as 2020.

Axel Bruns, a professor at Queensland University of Technology’s digital media research centre, said it was good YouTube was tackling misinformation and the promotion of unproven treatments on its platform, but the lack of a clear understanding of how the policy applies was concerning.

“Overall, we don’t know which videos were removed, what the decision-making processes were that contributed to their removal, why similar videos remain available, or whether this was a one-off action or YouTube will continue to monitor Sky News Australia and related channels more closely from now on,” he said.

“There’s perhaps a reason for this lack of transparency – revealing too much about its internal decision-making processes, both human and algorithmic, might enable disinformation actors to develop better workarounds, or lead them to highlight cases where – in their view – YouTube has applied double standards in its content moderation.

“But it nonetheless also highlights the arbitrary and uneven enforcement of ‘community standards’ on YouTube and other such platforms, and indeed the vague definition of ‘community standards’ in the first place.”

The Senate committee examining media diversity in Australia is expected to call Sky News, YouTube, Google and the Australian Communications and Media Authority to give evidence about the ban as early as Friday.

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