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YouTube as a source of information on COVID-19: a pandemic of misinformation?
  1. Heidi Oi-Yee Li1,
  2. Adrian Bailey1,
  3. David Huynh2,3,
  4. James Chan4
  1. 1 Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Health Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3 Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4 Department of Medicine, Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Ms Heidi Oi-Yee Li; heidi.li{at}live.ca; Ms Heidi Oi-Yee Li; heidi.li{at}live.ca

Abstract

Introduction The COVID-19 pandemic is this century’s largest public health emergency and its successful management relies on the effective dissemination of factual information. As a social media platform with billions of daily views, YouTube has tremendous potential to both support and hinder public health efforts. However, the usefulness and accuracy of most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19 have not been investigated.

Methods A YouTube search was performed 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.

Results 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.

Conclusion 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.

  • health policy
  • public health
  • prevention strategies
  • respiratory infections
  • cross-sectional survey
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

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Footnotes

  • HO-YL and AB are joint first authors.

  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

  • Twitter @hidee_li, @hynhdvd

  • Contributors Conception and design: HO-YL and AB. Data collection: HO-YL, AB and DH. Analysis and interpretation: all authors. Manuscript writing: HO-YL, AB and DH. Critical revision of the article: all authors. Final approval of the article: all authors. Obtained funding: not applicable. Overall responsibility: HL.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on request.

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