YouTube banned some videos pushing false conspiracies such as or Pizzagate, the company said Thursday, pledging to remove videos that target an individual or group with conspiracy theories that in the past have been used to justify real-world violence. With tweaks to its policies on harassment and hate, Google's massive video service said it would take down videos that suggest somebody is complicit in the unfounded conspiracy QAnon, which has grown in prominence over the last three years.
QAnon is a complicated collection of untrue beliefs including, for example, the notion that a secret club of Satanist Democrats, child-trafficking millionaires and "deep state" officials is trying to topple the administration of President Donald Trump. Pizzagate is a false conspiracy theory linking Hillary Clinton to a pedophile ring. Both have been debunked.
Over the three years since QAnon theories first emerged on the fringes of the internet, the prominence of QAnon has grown, especially in the run-up to the US election this year. The FBI last year classified the QAnon movement as a domestic terrorist threat.
But YouTube and other mainstream social media platforms have been crucial in widening QAnon's reach. A video called Out of the Shadows, for example, featured major figures within the QAnon movement and was posted to YouTube in April. It reached nearly 18 million views in less than five months, according to an August report on QAnon's evolution on social media by analysis firm Graphika.
"QAnon's success in spreading content beyond its immediate community has been most obvious" with the rapid spread of "YouTube documentaries" like Out of the Shadows and others, the report said.
YouTube, the internet's biggest video source, with more than, said Thursday that it's already removed "tens of thousands of QAnon videos and terminated hundreds of channels" under its previous policies. "All of this work has been pivotal in curbing the reach of harmful conspiracies, but there's even more we can do to address certain conspiracy theories that are used to justify real-world violence, like QAnon," it said.
The new policies aren't a blanket ban against QAnon on YouTube. One exception is news coverage that explains these issues. Another exception: Any content discussing QAnon or other dangerous conspiracy theories without targeting individuals or protected groups.
YouTube's announcement Thursday came the same day the US House of Representatives' intelligence committee held an open hearing on online misinformation and conspiracy theories. Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat of California, noted that YouTube's ban just hours earlier was one of the "necessary preliminary steps" that tech and social-media companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have taken so far.
YouTube said it would begin enforcing the updated policy Thursday and "will ramp up in the weeks to come."