YouTube has a “role to play” in encouraging younger people to get a Covid-19 vaccine because of the influence it has among those aged under 35, the firm’s UK boss has said.
The video site has launched a campaign to encourage young people to get their Covid jab when they become eligible in partnership with the NHS.
The campaign, with the tagline Let’s Not Go Back, which will run on the video platform as well as on social media and in other outlets, comes as the vaccine rollout in England is set to be opened up to those aged 35 and over this week.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, YouTube UK managing director Ben McOwen Wilson said the platform reached “98% of the UK’s 16 to 34-year-olds” and as the jab rollout began to reach younger adults it was vital they had “access to the facts about the vaccine”.
“What our campaign is around is a light-hearted way to ensure that they’re reminded to inform themselves around what the vaccine is, what the risks of the vaccine are, and the best way for them to move forward through that vaccination process and we’re delighted to work with the NHS on that,” he said.
Mr Wilson defended the company from suggestions it was operating more like a traditional media company – something the company has denied it is – by commissioning content and endorsing campaigns, and was crossing an editorial boundary by doing so while also blocking any vaccine scepticism from appearing on the site.
“Our policies mirror both the World Health Organisation and, in the UK, the NHS’s view on vaccines,” he said.
“Our view is that they are the authoritative voice and it is against their views on vaccines – their efficacy, harmful side effects – that we will enforce policies and remove content.”
Social media firms have also come under fire for their response to the spread of misinformation linked to the pandemic, including false claims and conspiracy theories about vaccines in recent months.
Mr Wilson said YouTube had removed 900,000 videos since February last year for breaching the site’s policies on Covid-19.
“I think in Covid we’ve seen the public health issue of our time and our view was that it was important to us to, if you like yes, pick a source of truth, and for us that has been the NHS and the World Health Organisation and it is against their view that we have enforced our policies,” he said.
“What I would say is we’ve seen people on our platform, both users and creators, throughout the pandemic showing enormous resilience and incredible creativity, and those creators have been coming forward wanting to speak to their audiences – in voices that those audiences understood – combined with the authority of the NHS, or other health organisations, to deliver sensible advice to their listeners and that’s really what our campaign is about today.”
The YouTube executive also confirmed that the suspension of former US president Donald Trump’s account would remain in place while the company felt there was still “the risk of real-world harm” and “real-world violence” associated with the account.
Mr Trump was banned from the site and other social media in January after a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters attacked the US Capitol, with the former president accused of glorifying and encouraging the attacks in a number of posts.