Is YouTube spreading COVID-19 misinformation? 1 in 4 most-viewed videos in English ‘misleading’
According to the study, government and professional videos on the coronavirus pandemic scored high on facts but accounted for just 10% of the around 257 million views considered by the researchers. It says that public health agencies must better use YouTube to deliver timely and accurate information.
More than one-quarter of the most-viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 in English contain misleading information, reaching millions of viewers worldwide, according to a new study.
The study conducted by researchers in Canada was published in BMJ Global Health journal in the past week. It says that videos from reputable sources remain under-represented in the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the study, government and professional videos on the global health crisis scored high on facts but accounted for just 10% of the around 257 million views considered by the researchers.
YouTube searches were performed by researchers in March using keywords “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” separately to identify the top 75 most viewed videos that were in English, shorter than an hour in duration. They excluded non-audio and non-visual content.
Experts said that 69 videos met the criteria, and together garnered 257,804,146 views. These videos were evaluated on facts, quality, reliability and usability. Videos made by the news media accounted for 47% videos.
The researchers stated: “Our study highlights that over 25% of YouTube’s most viewed English videos contained non-factual or misleading information, reaching over 62 million views and nearly 25% of total viewership.
“... Professional and government videos demonstrated higher accuracy, usability and quality across all measures but were largely under-represented in our sample.
“Our findings, which are consistent with those published in similar studies,8 10 11 suggest the lack of access of professional and government sources to individuals who use YouTube as a source of health information and a missed opportunity for dissemination of high-quality content,” researchers said.
According to the study, subscriptions and presentation are what drove views.
Researchers said that descriptive analysis of non-factual videos included statements consisting of conspiracy theories, non-factual information, inappropriate recommendations inconsistent with current official government and health agency guidelines and discriminating statements.
“This is particularly alarming, when considering the immense viewership of these videos. Evidently, while the power of social media lies in the sheer volume and diversity of information being generated and spread, it has significant potential for harm," said the study.
“The proliferation and spread of misinformation can exacerbate racism and fear and result in unconstructive and dangerous behaviour, such as toilet paper hoarding and mask stealing behaviours seen so far in the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Consequently, this misinformation, according to the researchers, impedes the delivery of accurate pandemic-related information, thus hindering efforts by public health officials and healthcare professionals to fight the pandemic.
The education and engagement of the public are paramount in the management of this pandemic by ensuring public understanding of and, therefore, adherence with public health measures, says the study.
“As the current COVID-19 pandemic worsens, public health agencies must better use YouTube to deliver timely and accurate information and to minimise the spread of misinformation. This may play a significant role in successfully managing the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.