“Coronavirus EXPLAINED”: YouTube, COVID-19, and the Socio-Technical Mediation of Expertise

17 September 2020

Social Media & Society

Nahema Marchal and Hubert Au write in Social Media + Society about how the incentive structure and participatory affordances of YouTube shape engagement with COVID-19 news and information:

Results from this content analysis were, to a certain degree, reassuring. Only a small fraction of the videos we analyzed were found to be peddling unsubstantiated claims4 on the virus’ origins, transmission patterns, or cure (less than 2%). The ones that did tended to relay sinophobic tropes and amplified snippets of misinformation that had already been debunked elsewhere (Andersen et al., 2020), such as claims that the virus had been unleashed from a Wuhan lab in a geopolitical ploy orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party. In contrast, factual and balanced reporting mostly dominated video results, especially for searches linked to “coronavirus UK,” where fully 80% of top 20 results returned professional news report.

However, this only tells part of the story. Our analysis shows that while instances of junk and highly politicized health news and information were minimal, this content received far more engagement in the form of comments than any other type of videos: around 9,000 comments per million views. Another arresting finding was the channels of public health institutions such as the WHO and NHS were rarely, if ever, returned in our search results. Instead, four-fifths of the channels sharing coronavirus news and information in our dataset were maintained by news outlets and independent content creators, including health practitioners and commentators who took it upon themselves to translate the latest scientific evidence and governmental policies to their audiences.

Marchal N, Au H. “Coronavirus EXPLAINED”: YouTube, COVID-19, and the Socio-Technical Mediation of Expertise. Social Media + Society. July 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120948158

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