(WXYZ) — During public comment at public meetings, you can talk about anything, even something not on the agenda. And Livingston County says that got it in trouble with YouTube.
“We received notification that one of our meetings violated their medical misinformation policy,” said Livingston County Administrator Nathan Burd.
Burd says he was surprised. COVID-19 wasn’t on the agenda.
“I know there was nothing COVID-related that our commissioners were discussing. So I think that was generated from comments made by the public, but to be clear YouTube never specified what comment it was,” said Burd.
Part of YouTube’s policy says it doesn’t allow content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities’ or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical information about COVID-19.
During the April meeting, one woman from the public questioned whether COVID existed. The World Health Organization says it exists and has killed more than 4.6 million people.
Then it happened again. YouTube took down an August 9th meeting.
“I have read plenty of data that says masks are ineffective for COVID and I am not shy about sharing my point of view, so perhaps it is that,” said Commissioner Wes Nakagiri.
Nakagiri says he has said things that technically violate YouTube’s policy against contracting local health authorities. The health department recommends the public follow CDC guidelines for example and wear masks in schools.
He doesn’t think he mentioned any such thing during the meetings pulled.
He says he believes YouTube is hampering the political process by censoring what is said by either elected officials or the public.
“People have a right to know. They have a right to know what their elected officials are thinking,” said Nakagiri.
“That is what really clarified the fact I need to get my children out of the school district,” said Katie Deck.
Deck says after listening to Livingston County Commission meetings left on YouTube discussing whether to fund the health department and require masks in schools, she changed school districts.
She doesn’t agree with a lot of what is said about COVID-19, but still wants access to meetings.
“It could be good for a lot of people to see what is happening, but I also don’t want misinformation to spread,” said Deck.
“This gets us a little further down that slipper slope when it comes to who is going to be able to speak … on platforms like YouTube. If they can silence a government entity, I think there are bigger questions afoot,” said political science professor David Dulio.
Dulio is the director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University. He says YouTube’s lack of specific transparency over why the videos are taken down is problematic.
“If they want to abide by the policy, they need to know what they did wrong,” said Dulio.
So what does YouTube have to say?
YouTube looked into it after 7 Action News asked for comment and said “Upon further review, we’re reinstating the Livingston County Commissioners meeting videos. We have policies in place to allow content that might otherwise violate our COVID-19 misinformation policies [support.google.com] as long as it includes educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic (EDSA) context.”
“I appreciate whatever attention you were able to bring to this, because I don’t think it is a coincidence that we got that email right before you and I met,” said Nakagiri.
This isn’t an isolated incident. It has happened to public meetings around the country. It is something we are going to keep an eye on.