Coronavirus: One In Four YouTube Covid-19 Videos Are Misleading

New research has revealed the scale of misinformation found online regarding the global Coronavirus pandemic.

According to research from BMJ Global Health, the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest health emergency this century, and social media platforms with billions of views a day is a “effective dissemination of factual information.”

But it seems that a worrying amount of YouTube content about the virus is misleading or inaccurate. Yet Google does take its responsibilities seriously. For example the streaming platform in early April banned all conspiracy theory videos that falsely link 5G networks to the spread of Coronavirus.

Misleading videos

BMJ Global Health carried out a search on 21 March on English-language videos, using keywords ‘coronavirus’ and ‘Covid-19’. The top 75 viewed videos from each search were analysed.

“Of 150 videos screened, 69 (46 percent) were included, totalling 257 804 146 views,” the researchers said. “Nineteen (27.5 percent) videos contained non-factual information.”

It seems that government and professional videos were the most factual videos, but tend not to be viewed as much.

Of the 19 videos that included non-factual information, about a third came from entertainment news sources; a quarter came from national news outlets; another quarter came from internet news sources; and finally 13 percent were uploaded by independent video-makers.

“Over one-quarter of the most viewed YouTube videos on Covid-19 contained misleading information, reaching millions of viewers worldwide,” said the researchers. “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.”

Among the false claims found in the study was the allegation that pharmaceutical companies already have a coronavirus vaccine but are refusing to sell it.

Clear policies

YouTube meanwhile told the BBC it was committed to reducing the spread of harmful misinformation.

“We’re committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using NHS and World Health Organisation (WHO) data, to help combat misinformation,” it said in a statement.

“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 added.

“Now any content that disputes the existence or transmission of Covid-19, as described by the WHO and the NHS, is in violation of YouTube policies,” it said. “For borderline content that could misinform users in harmful ways, we reduce recommendations.”

“We’ll continue to evaluate the impact of these videos on communities around the world,” it concluded.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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