American physicians are teaming up with YouTube to counter misinformation. The influence of this social media platform has exploded. In 2020, researchers screened the most popular videos on Covid-19, analysing the quality of the information relayed. The American College of Physicians has announced that it is partnering with YouTube to create educational content to combat misinformation about Covid-19 treatment and vaccines.
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In 2020, researchers found that more than one in four of the most popular Covid-19 videos on YouTube contained misleading or inaccurate information. They wrote: "YouTube is a powerful and untapped educational tool that should be better mobilised by health professionals."
The spread of false information about the pandemic is hampering the work of physicians trying to mitigate the spread of the virus. Concerned about the extent to which this is happening, the American College of Physicians (ACP) announced on 13 October 2021 that it is partnering with YouTube to create educational content. The aim is to provide physicians with a series of videos, in English and Spanish, to help them assess and counter medical misinformation.
In addition, the ACP will develop video content for the public to answer their questions about vaccines. These videos will highlight the mechanisms of misinformation and indicate where to find credible medical information.
In 2020, researchers analysed the content of the most popular videos on Covid-19 on a single day, 21 March. They found that misinformation about Covid-19 was reaching many more people than in previous pandemics, with considerable potential for harm.
Swine flu pandemic, Ebola and Zika epidemics... Previous studies have already shown the extent of misinformation on YouTube. 23% to 26% of videos posted were misleading, but they were viewed far less. The explosion of social media has amplified this phenomenon. In 2014, the 118 Ebola videos generated "only" 9 million views. On 21 March 2020, the sample of videos selected by the researchers had 257 million views.
Some good information is posted on YouTube by government agencies and experts. However, it is often difficult to understand and lacks appeal to the general public. Their reach is therefore limited.
On 21 March 2020, the researchers searched the digital platform for the most viewed English-language videos, using the keywords "coronavirus" and "Covid-19".
The reliability and content quality of each selected video was assessed using validated scoring systems: mDISCERN (modified DISCERN score) and mJAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association benchmark).
The usefulness of the content to the viewer was assessed using a specific score, inspired by similar systems developed for other public health emergencies. A "CSS" (COVID-19 Specific Score) point was awarded if the video contained exclusively factual information on each of the following items: viral spread, typical symptoms, prevention, treatment options and epidemiology. Each video could therefore accumulate five points.
50 out of 69 videos (72.5%) contained only factual information. But more than one in four (19) contained misleading or inaccurate information, for a total of more than 62 million views (24% of the total). Videos from health experts and government agencies scored significantly higher than the other sources in terms of accuracy, but they are rarely viewed.
The researchers concluded that public health organisations were using "static" marketing strategies (publishing guidelines, reports, statistics and infographics) that were not attractive or accessible to the general public. These organisations should therefore work with entertainment media and influencers to boost their digital content to reach a much wider audience. "The lack of access to professional and government sources for individuals using YouTube as a source of health information is a missed opportunity for high-quality content delivery."
Notes and references:
1. American College of Physicians press release (13 October 2021).
Partnering with YouTube on educational content to counter misinformation around COVID-19 treatment and vaccines
2. Li HO, Bailey A, Huynh D, et al
YouTube as a source of information on COVID-19: a pandemic of misinformation?
BMJ Global Health 2020;5:e002604.