YouTube doesn’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to reliable information. In fact, due to how YouTube’s algorithm rewards engagement over quality, the system is prone to recommending conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods far more often than it should. Since most of YouTube’s moderation is automated, fake news and hogwash tends to slip through the cracks — eventually reaching the people most prone to believing it.
One recent example of misinformation gone viral is the “Miracle Mineral Solution,” a chemical tonic promoted by healer and self-proclaimed “space bishop” Jim Humble. According to him, this medicine can cure a variety of ailments including toothaches, infections, and even developmental disorders like autism. But make no mistake, Miracle Mineral Solution does nothing of the sort. It’s actually a completely different chemical, one that’s poisonous if swallowed: bleach.
If you’re shocked that a huckster can get away with shilling bleach-based medicine on YouTube, you’ll be happy to know that the platform is finally cracking down on his quack products and others like it. Despite the videos being against YouTube’s rules, you won’t believe the effort it took to finally convince the platform to act on them.
What is the Miracle Mineral Solution and why is it dangerous?
Jim Humble has been a fringe spiritual leader since he left the Church of Scientology in 1996. After claiming he “discovered” the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) in South America, he took to YouTube to promote its alleged uses.
According to Humble, the tonic can “kill most of the disease of mankind.” It’s been especially promoted as a potential cure for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which affect millions of Americans, many of them children.
Unfortunately for his followers, the medicine he’s been hawking is actually chlorine bleach — an industrial chemical used to whiten clothes and sanitize surfaces. As most people know, drinking bleach is extremely dangerous — but many of Humble’s followers have decided to ignore this common knowledge and drink it anyway!
Worst of all, several parents looking to “cure” their child’s autism have given them the Miracle Mineral Solution, some going as far as giving their child enemas with the substance. Needless to say, this chemical is highly destructive to body tissue.
In 2010, multiple people ended up in the emergency room for consuming MMS — with life threatening symptoms of low blood pressure, as well as vomiting and dehydration. Humble denies the allegations on his part, claiming the chemical is safe for human consumption, and “lines up the body” to be able to heal itself.
I don’t know about you, but an emergency room visit doesn’t sound all that “healing” to me. Maybe he expects doctors to do his work for him.
What is YouTube doing to stop the spread of misinformation?
One of the most difficult things about misinformation on YouTube is the fact that the platform does nothing to curtail it. The reasons are multifaceted, but the company mostly wants to avoid the appearance of censorship.
However, the platform has clear terms of service that restrict content promoting dangerous or illegal activities. But these rules are not as strictly enforced as they should be.
The company finally changed its tune, though, after Business Insider contacted it while writing its exposé on MMS. Many of Humble’s videos have been removed, and the ones that haven’t are now disconnected from YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. According to YouTube, the platform doesn’t proactively flag content, but will act upon reports if they’re rightfully concerning.
While this is a step in the right direction, YouTube has a good deal of work to do in order to properly keep its users safe. Many of the parents drawn to Humble’s videos were led there after viewing medical conspiracy theory videos. Due to the nature of YouTube’s algorithm, it’s often a rabbit-hole that pushes viewers further into more fringe and extreme content.
In order to properly moderate its platform, YouTube will need to rely less on machines and more on flesh-and-blood humans to make judgement calls on questionable content that can hurt people. Otherwise, we may end up seeing more people in the hospital — or worse — in the future.