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YouTube removes video of Austrian MP over 'COVID-19 misinformation'

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By Matthew Holroyd
The video showed a speech by the parliamentary leader of the opposition Freedom party (FPÖ).
The video showed a speech by the parliamentary leader of the opposition Freedom party (FPÖ).   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michael Gruber   -  

YouTube has removed a video of a prominent opposition politician in Austria under the platform's policy against COVID-19 misinformation.

The video showed Herbert Kickl, parliamentary leader of the opposition Freedom Party (FPÖ), speaking in parliament on Wednesday.

In his speech, Kickl criticised the Austrian government's decision to close schools during the pandemic, claiming - without evidence - that children would play "not the slightest role" in spreading the coronavirus.

In a statement to Euronews, YouTube confirmed that they had removed the video for violating their policy against "COVID-19 medical misinformation".

The video-sharing platform has rules against content that contradicts local health authorities or the World Health Organization (WHO) and claims that any group or individual has immunity to the virus or cannot transmit the virus.

According to the WHO, the role of children in transmitting COVID-19 is not yet fully understood, with few outbreaks reported in schools.

However, the organisation state that children "generally have a milder illness and fewer symptoms", and cases of coronavirus "may sometimes go unnoticed".

"Importantly, early data from studies suggest that infection rates among teenagers may be higher than in younger children," the WHO added.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also state that the spread of coronavirus in schools depends on the levels of "community transmission".

"No evidence has been found to suggest that children or educational settings are the primary drivers of SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission," the ECDC said, "however, research has shown that children can become infected, and can spread the virus to other children and adults while they are infectious."

Last year, YouTube stepped up its policies on the spread of COVID-19 misinformation on the platform and brought in new specific rules in May.

"We remain committed to providing timely and helpful information about COVID-19, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation, and showing information panels ... to help combat misinformation," a spokesperson told Euronews.

"We have clear policies that prohibit videos that contradict local health authorities or WHO and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us."

The parliamentary speech of Kickl remains active on Facebook and has been shared more than 500,000 times.

Euronews has contacted Facebook for a statement on whether action will be taken on the video.

After the video was removed by YouTube, the Freedom Party stated that the Google company had committed an "act of censorship".

"It is utterly monstrous that an American media company has set itself up to ban the distribution of parliamentary speeches," said deputy chairman of the parliamentary group, Susanne Fürst.

"This represents massive interference in Austrian politics and is unacceptable."

The FPÖ also stated that they had also been blocked from uploading videos to their YouTube channel for a week. The party last uploaded a speech by one of their members on Wednesday.

Social media giants have been under intense scrutiny in the United States for their content moderation policies, following the storming of the US Capitol building last week.