As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread early in 2020, global health officials were tasked with protecting the public from a novel disease before they fully understood how it was spread—or how transmission could be prevented. The dearth of information left people panicked and confused, and many were compelled to consult the primary source of their everyday information consumption: the world wide web.
Now, with the hindsight of 2020’s information roulette and its consequences, Google is using its ubiquitous video platform YouTube to combat the proliferation of mis-and-dis-information by producing new, accurate health content in tandem with trusted medical organizations and officials. On January 13, 2021, YouTube announced its health partnerships team, which includes organizations like the American Public Health Association, Mayo Clinic, the National Academy of Medicine, and more. Additionally, the video-sharing service introduced Dr. Garth Graham as its Director and Global Head of Healthcare and Public Health Partnerships, a newly created public service division.
Throughout the pandemic, Americans have fallen subject to coronavirus misinformation online, from the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine to the effectiveness of mask-wearing, falsehoods with potentially lethal consequences. This “infodemic” has been spread across social media, leading uninformed communities to bogus news sites and videos that stoked fears and encouraged reckless behavior that has jeopardized public health.
The new YouTube initiative is the latest, and perhaps most significant, response from Big Tech aimed at fighting the further spread of the infodemic fueling the surging pandemic. Dr. Graham boasts impressive credentials—he is a former executive with CVS Health as well as a former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush and Obama administrations. Armed with the knowledge of consumer tendencies in seeking out dubious and dangerous online advice, the initiative intends to bring the best information to the forefront of the popular platform.
The COVID-19 infodemic spread alongside the virus in America in the early months of the global health crisis, with Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and YouTube serving as seemingly-unwitting super-spreaders of misinformation in the forms of fake news articles and conspiracy videos hosted and shared by the titans of the internet. In time, each began to scrub their platforms of anti-science propaganda and fatally-fake news, but the misinformation crisis has exposed the shortcomings of such companies in dispensing accurate health information to the plugged-in public.
YouTube has deleted, demonetized, and deplatformed countless broadcasters of bad info in the months since the pandemic began, and their new public health partnerships program could be a big step toward safeguarding against future epidemics and preventing the spread of viral misinformation across the internet.