Researchers Find No Strong Evidence of YouTube Promoting Anti-Vaccine Content During Pandemic

Researchers Find No Strong Evidence of YouTube Promoting Anti-Vaccine Content During Pandemic

Researchers from UN Global Pulse, the United Nations’ innovation lab, have conducted a study to determine whether YouTube, the popular video-sharing platform, promoted anti-vaccine content during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, reveal that there is no strong evidence to suggest that YouTube actively pushed anti-vaccine videos to users.

The team conducted the study by asking participants, who were trained by the World Health Organization (WHO) and recruited through the Amazon Mechanical Turk tool, to find an anti-vaccine video in the fewest clicks starting from a WHO COVID-19 video. They compared the recommendations these users saw to related videos and recommended “up-next” videos seen through clean browsers without tracking software.

Despite concerns about social media platforms contributing to vaccine hesitancy, the researchers found that YouTube’s algorithms did not direct users towards anti-vaccine content. In fact, less than 6% of the video recommendations were related to anti-vaccine information. Instead, YouTube’s algorithms prioritized non-vaccine-related health content.

Lead author Margaret Yee Man Ng, PhD, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), explained that the videos users were directed to were longer and contained more popular content in an attempt to engage users through a “blockbuster strategy” of promoting successful content across the platform.

While YouTube has made commitments to remove misinformation about vaccines, auditing these claims is challenging. The researchers emphasize the need for more empirical research to assess the actual prevalence of anti-vaccine sentiment on the internet.

This study provides valuable insights into YouTube’s role in disseminating vaccine-related information. By debunking the notion that YouTube promotes anti-vaccine content, it sheds light on the complex dynamics of video recommendation algorithms. However, further research is needed to better understand the impact of social media platforms on public health issues.

– Esther Vargas / Flickr cc
– Journal of Medical Internet Research

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