The majority of YouTube’s most popular videos on the subject of COVID-19 fail to address key prevention behaviors for mitigating the spread of the virus. Instead, 84% of the videos mention death, and 79% suggest fear and anxiety. These findings come from a study published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance.
The coronavirus COVID-19 was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has since taken the entire globe by storm. As there is currently no available vaccine for the virus, the most effective way to protect public health is through individual behaviors such as social distancing and hand washing. It’s therefore vital to ensure that accurate prevention information is reaching the public. Researchers wanted to examine the content being published on the second largest social media platform, YouTube.
A study was conducted on a sample of the 100 most widely viewed YouTube videos that were pulled from the keyword “coronavirus” in the month of January 2020. As of March 5, 2020, these videos had reached a collective of over 165 million views. The sources of the videos were mainly television or internet-based news, but also included content uploaded by consumers and medical professionals.
Researchers analyzed the content of the videos to see whether they would address the seven prevention behaviors outlined by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These seven behaviors are hand washing, staying at home when sick, avoiding contact with those who are ill, covering coughs and sneezes, disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched, wearing a facemask when caring for the sick, and wearing a facemask when ill.
Results showed that less than a third of the videos mentioned any of the seven key prevention behaviors. About a quarter of the videos discussed hand washing and less than a fifth mentioned disinfecting frequently touched surfaces or properly covering coughs and sneezes.
Twenty-nine percent advised staying home when sick and 31% mentioned avoiding contact with those who are ill.
While most videos failed to address preventative measures to slow down the transmission of the virus, the vast majority of videos included fear-inducing content. Results showed that 84% of the videos mentioned death and 79% suggested fear and anxiety. These videos had collectively amassed more than 100 million views.
The videos in the study had massive audiences, indicating that YouTube serves as a significant source of news during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a constantly evolving situation such as this one, information changes rapidly, making it even more crucial to evaluate the source of news that is reaching the public. Researchers explain that YouTube is failing to meet a unique opportunity to educate the public through video format.
The authors discuss the importance of these findings, noting that the prevalence of fear-inducing video content likely contributes to feelings of public anxiety, encouraging maladaptive behaviors like panic-buying and excessive trips to the emergency room. Researchers conclude that consumers must become “critical evaluators of disseminated information about COVID-19 found on YouTube”.
The study, “Preventive Behaviors Conveyed on YouTube to Mitigate Transmission of COVID-19: Cross-Sectional Study”, was authored by Corey H Basch, EdD, MPH; Grace C Hillyer, EdD, MPH; Zoe C Meleo-Erwin, PhD, MA; Christie Jaime, MS; Jan Mohlman, PhD; and Charles E Basch, PhD.