Live

Watch CBSN Live

YouTube removes channel selling false vaccine information

Report on anti-vaccine disinformation spreaders
Report on anti-vaccine disinformation spreade... 00:45

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." It was not immediately clear why the channel was shut down now; YouTube started banning anti-vaccine misinformation in October. A spokesperson said the company was working on a statement.

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.

U.K. doctor helps build confidence in vaccine... 04:36

"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 Disinformation Dozen"

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.

Asked why YouTube allowed the Bollingers' The Truth About Cancer channel to remain up while taking down their vaccines channel, YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez said on Wednesday the company was reviewing it.

The couple are also operating accounts on other social media platforms that remain up, including a Facebook page that has more than 1.1 million followers.

The Bollingers did not immediately return an email seeking comment, but complained about YouTube's decision in a Tuesday post on Telegram, writing that "I think they are desperate and are losing." It was unclear who they were referring to.

Platforms allowed propaganda for years

An AP investigation published last week showed how the Bollingers had worked with others in the anti-vaccine movement to make money by selling disinformation, an enterprise that the Bollingers have said generated millions of dollars for themselves and their affiliates. The story also detailed how the Bollingers used connections from their anti-vaccine business, including Kennedy, to raise money for a Super PAC.

Platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have for years allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to spread and been slow to crack down on misinformation about COVID-19, removing just a fraction of the false content.

Ahmed said that there has now been a series of actions by social media platforms against the people his group identified as the worst anti-vaccine disinformation offenders.

"But it's all too piecemeal," he said. "If they're given any means by which to survive, these bad actors will try to adapt and try to focus on the channels they have available to them."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.