During the last few months, I have done little else on this blog than trying to expose misinformation about COVID-19 in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). However, the usefulness and accuracy of most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 have so far not been investigated. Canadian researchers have just published a very nice paper that fills this gap.

They performed a YouTube search on 21 March 2020 using keywords ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’, and the top 75 viewed videos from each search were analysed. Videos that were duplicates, non-English, non-audio and non-visual, exceeding 1 hour in duration, live and unrelated to COVID-19 were excluded. Two reviewers coded the source, content and characteristics of included videos. The primary outcome was usability and reliability of videos, analysed using the novel COVID-19 Specific Score (CSS), modified DISCERN (mDISCERN) and modified JAMA (mJAMA) scores.

Of 150 videos screened, 69 (46%) were included, totalling 257 804 146 views. Nineteen (27.5%) videos contained non-factual information, totalling 62 042 609 views. Government and professional videos contained only factual information and had higher CSS than consumer videos (mean difference (MD) 2.21, 95% CI 0.10 to 4.32, p=0.037); mDISCERN scores than consumer videos (MD 2.46, 95% CI 0.50 to 4.42, p=0.008), internet news videos (MD 2.20, 95% CI 0.19 to 4.21, p=0.027) and entertainment news videos (MD 2.57, 95% CI 0.66 to 4.49, p=0.004); and mJAMA scores than entertainment news videos (MD 1.21, 95% CI 0.07 to 2.36, p=0.033) and consumer videos (MD 1.27, 95% CI 0.10 to 2.44, p=0.028). However, they only accounted for 11% of videos and 10% of views.

The authors concluded that over one-quarter of the most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 contained misleading information, reaching millions of viewers worldwide. 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.

I think this is an important contribution to our knowledge about the misinformation that currently bombards the public. It explains not only the proliferation of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, but also the plethora of useless SCAM options that are being touted endangering the public.

The authors point out that the 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. 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 impedes the delivery of accurate pandemic-related information, thus hindering efforts by public health officials and healthcare professionals to fight the pandemic.

Good work!

I suggest to critically evaluate the statements of some UK and US politicians next.


11 Responses to Conspiracy theories and dangerous recommendations via YouTube videos

  • State-controlled youTube – I’m out!

    • I don’t think “make better use of” means “the state should control YouTube.”

      But should authorities—whether it’s governments or the channels themselves— crack down on letting people publish information that results in death? Absolutely. You can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, either. Free speech, sure. But not absolute free speech. We must be sensible.

      • Ron Jette on Friday 15 May 2020 at 14:46 said:
        “…Free speech, sure. But not absolute free speech.”

        There is no choice. It’s Either Or.

        There is *only* free speech Or none at all, in the same way that one cannot have terminal cancer slightly.

        E.g. Animal Farm: “…but some animals are more equal than others…”
        E.g. 1984 “…history went out of date so quickly, it needed to be rewritten constantly…”

        There is only absolute free speech or none. Absolute-free-speech is a redundancy.

        Who-is-to-guard-the-guards is a maxim for a reason.

        • that’s not the consensus of the experts on that matter, I think.

          • Edzard on Saturday 16 May 2020 at 08:28 said

            “that’s not the consensus of the experts on that matter, I think.”

            That’s true, most confuse principle and compromise.

          • so only you are smart enough to tell things as they are?

          • Edzard on Saturday 16 May 2020 at 13:37 said:

            “so only you are smart enough to tell things as they are?”

            Yes, but only for myself and not for you or anyone else and vice versa (you or a consensus-of-experts cannot decide what is “right” for me).

  • I suggest to critically evaluate the statements of some UK and US politicians next.

    I think they would need danger pay and clinical psychological backup.

    More seriously, it would be a fascinating study though it would be nice to include some other countries as well. Germany, China, Brazil, and New Zealand might be interesting as part of the sample.

  • Edzard, while you are on this particular ‘expose’, how about saying something positive for a change. The UK Gov, Public Health England, NICE and other odd-bods are doing nothing to advise or guide the General Public on basic measures they can take to support their innate and and adaptive immune system.
    Examples that many NON-SCAM health professionals are finally (or reluctantly) recommending include Liposomal Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2 (MK7), foods and supplements rich in absorbable forms of vitamin C, Vitamin B Complex, plus Zinc, Selenium and other useful supportive nutrients. I wouldn’t be surprised if you criticise these suggestions as being SCAM. Your call.

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