Covid-19 misinformation videos attract more than 62m views on YouTube

14 May 2020247 Views

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Researchers analysing the content of YouTube videos about Covid-19 have found a significant amount of misinformation being spread.

More than one-in-four YouTube videos in spoken English that discuss Covid-19 present either unchallenged inaccuracies or misinformation, according to a new study published to BMJ Global. Researchers searched the site for the most widely viewed and relevant videos as of 21 March 2020.

After excluding duplicates, non-English language videos and ones without audio or visual content, the researchers were left with just 69 videos. These had views totalling almost 258m.

“The education and engagement of the public is paramount in the management of this pandemic by ensuring public understanding of, and therefore adherence with, public health measures,” the authors wrote.

“YouTube is a powerful, untapped educational tool that should be better mobilised by health professionals.”

Of the videos analysed, 29pc came from network news, followed by consumers (22pc), entertainment news (21pc), internet news (12pc), professionals (7pc), newspapers (5pc), educational bodies (2pc) and government agencies (2pc).

Nearly 50 of the videos (72.5pc) contained only factual information, according to the researchers, but 19 (27.5pc) contained inaccurate or misleading information. These 19 videos accounted for just over 62m views, or almost one-quarter of the total studied.

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Of the misleading videos, approximately one-third came from entertainment news, with internet news sources each accounting for around a quarter. Consumer videos made up 13pc of the total.

‘Significant potential for harm’

Among the most cited examples of inaccuracies in the videos was the belief that pharmaceutical companies already have a cure for Covid-19, but are refusing to release it to the public. Others false claims included countries having stronger strains of the coronavirus, or racist and discriminatory statements.

“This is particularly alarming, when considering the immense viewership of these videos,” the researchers said.

“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.”

They recommended that public health and government bodies should collaborate with entertainment news and social media influences to counter circulating misinformation and inaccuracies during the pandemic.

In a statement to the BBC in response to the study, YouTube said: “We have clear policies that prohibit videos promoting medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment, and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us.”

It comes as YouTube was forced to react after a video spreading disproven Covid-19 conspiracy theories went viral across the platform, accumulating millions of views before it was removed.

Colm Gorey is a senior journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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