Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his presidential campaign have thrived online, and that’s putting some technology platforms in a difficult position as they navigate a changing landscape of how misinformation is handled on social media.
Once a fringe anti-vaccine activist, Kennedy has received a warm embrace from some of the most popular figures in the alternative media. In just over two months, he has appeared on the Joe Rogan Podcast, the “All-In Podcast” Hosted by Influential Tech Investors, the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast and more.
Videos of those appearances have racked up millions of views on YouTube and tend to be relatively consistent: Kennedy defends a wide variety of conspiracy theories and outlandish claims, most of which are supported by little evidence or have been completely debunked, mixed in with other observations, stories and opinions.
YouTube removed some of those videos, while others remain online.
An NBC News review found nine videos posted to YouTube this year that are still up in which Kennedy shares medical misinformation related to vaccines and the Covid-19 pandemic. On Spotify, NBC News found 14 podcast episodes in which Kennedy appeared to share medical misinformation. Kennedy also publishes his own podcast on the platform. And on platforms like Twitter and Rumble, both of which have fostered communities of conspiracy theorists, Kennedy has been able to freely post and stream without the worry of any moderation.
The appearances have added to the perception of growing momentum around the Kennedy campaign. At times, he has tried to downplay his anti-vaccine past, but he still routinely discusses his views in different media outlets.
Kennedy’s appearances also come as many platforms have reversed some of their pandemic-era policies around Covid misinformation.
Shortly after Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter late last year, the social networking site stopped enforcing its disinformation policy on Covid-19. And last week, Meta announced that she was withdrawing her global Covid-19 disinformation policy, saying she would continue to apply it in countries with a declared Covid-19 public health emergency.
Under YouTube’s vaccine misinformation policy, the platform removes content that includes “harmful misinformation about currently approved and administered vaccines.” YouTube has a separate Covid-19 disinformation policy against content that contradicts local health authorities or World Health Organization guidance on Covid-19.
The WHO said that vaccines against covid-19 are highly effective and called on countries to vaccinate at least 70% of their populations.
YouTube removed at least three videos that featured Kennedy. On Monday, it removed a video of Kennedy and Peterson for violating its general vaccine misinformation policy, according to a company statement. It also removed an interview Kennedy did with boxer Mike Tyson’s podcast in May.
In the nine videos reviewed by NBC News, Kennedy made discredited claims, such as linking the rise in autism to vaccines.
On Facebook, Kennedy appeared in several videos in 2020 and 2021 where he shared his skeptical views on vaccines, including the unfounded linking of vaccines to disease. She discussed these views on podcaster Theo Von’s show in 2021, which has 993,000 views on Facebook. Earlier this month, Von shared on Twitter a clip of the episode, which he said was removed on other platforms.
Meta took some action against Kennedy on Instagram at the time. In 2021, Meta removed Kennedy from Instagram for sharing misinformation about the vaccine and covid-19. His account was reinstated this month as he is an active presidential candidate.
The Instagram and Facebook accounts of Kennedy’s anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense, which were suspended last year, remain unavailable on both sites. The nonprofit organization is active on Twitter and recently shared Kennedy’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s Spotify. podcast.
On Spotify, podcasts featuring Kennedy discussing his views on vaccines include the platform’s Covid-19 advisory poster.
Spotify doesn’t have a clear policy on Covid-19 misinformation, but its platform’s rules prohibit content that claims Covid-19 was a hoax. Spotify places the “Learn about COVID-19” notice on episodes that mention the topic, but the streaming platform has come under fire in recent years for allowing episodes to spread misinformation about the vaccine on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Spotify did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amid YouTube’s actions against Kennedy, he found support from some alternative and conservative outlets, notably Twitter, a platform that has stopped enforcing its Covid-19 misinformation rules.
Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson defended Kennedy’s anti-vaccine rhetoric on his June 22 Twitter account. show.
The Rumble video platform, which is positioned as a competitor to YouTube, he criticized YouTube for removing the Kennedy and Peterson video. “YouTube, you are on the wrong side of history,” Rumble wrote in Twitter. Kennedy posted the first video of him at Rumble this week. The platform has no policies against misinformation.
meanwhile musk answered to a tweet about YouTube removing the Kennedy and Peterson video with “Illustrates why YT needs competition.”
Musk spoke to Kennedy in a Twitter space noble “Reclaiming Democracy” on June 5. In the conversation, Kennedy criticized a 2019 effort by Rep. Adam Schiff demanding that sites like Google and Facebook fight misinformation about Covid-19.