YouTube has monetized multiple videos pushing or alluding to the baseless claim that COVID-19 vaccines have caused the deaths of numerous young people, celebrities, and high-profile figures, even though YouTube’s own rules prohibit content falsely claiming vaccines can cause death or chronic side effects.
During the coronavirus pandemic, anti-vaccine figures have pushed baseless claims that sudden deaths, particularly those of celebrities, athletes, and young people, are caused by COVID-19 vaccines. These claims have been repeatedly debunked, with no evidence that these incidents are tied to vaccines (in fact, they often are explicitly tied to other health incidents). Died Suddenly — a movie released by conspiracy theorist Stew Peters in November — particularly popularized these anti-vaccine claims.
Using the tracking tool BuzzSumo, Media Matters reviewed videos titled with variations of phrases related to the claim that sudden deaths are caused by vaccines (“died suddenly” or “sudden death”) since last November, when Died Suddenly was released online. Media Matters found multiple videos with these terms, some with revenue-generating ads and which directly invoked or alluded to these claims, including with respect to the unexpected deaths of former NFL player Jesse Lemonier, former Arizona swimmer Ty Wells, and right-wing personality Lynette Hardaway (known as “Diamond” of “Diamond & Silk”).
YouTube’s policies explicitly prohibit “claims that an approved COVID-19 vaccine will cause death, infertility, miscarriage, autism, or contraction of other infectious diseases” and “content alleging that vaccines cause chronic side effects, outside of rare side effects that are recognized by health authorities.”
The review also found a YouTube hashtag page for #diedsuddenly featuring videos that seem to push the claim. (One video with that hashtag was even featured in a Facebook and Instagram ad.)
The videos featuring revenue-generating ads, which have gotten hundreds of thousands of total views, push the claim in varied ways:
These conspiracy theory videos with ads are part of YouTube’s ongoing monetization crisis. The platform has repeatedly allowed channels to monetize videos that violate YouTube’s own rules, along with allowing ads to run on videos pushing misinformation.
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