Analysing the quality of COVID-19 videos on social media

TikTok videos on COVID-19 vaccines are often more understandable than YouTube or Facebook Watch, but those posted on YouTube are generally more comprehensive and reliable.

Story by Drishtee Lokee.

When YouTube announced a ban on COVID-19 anti-vaccine videos in September 2021 due to the infodemic, it acknowledged the dangers of the potential spread of immunisation misinformation on social media platforms. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), such misinformation can potentially lead to vaccine hesitancy, which is one of the greatest threats to global health.

Dr Kevin Yap, an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in Digital Health at La Trobe University, says that the information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines are still evolving as countries move towards an endemic stage.

“The misinformation provided by COVID-19 videos [may] negatively impact public health efforts to combat the pandemic,” says Dr Yap. “It can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications of information regarding the pandemic and vaccine hesitancy.”

"This is of particular concern with new information regarding variants of the coronavirus, newer vaccines and the possibility of the need of a fourth booster vaccine dose.”

As a result of the infodemic, Dr Yap collaborated with fellow researchers from Singapore, Ryan Tan, Alyssa Pua and Dr Li Lian Wong to evaluate the quality of COVID-19 vaccine videos on three video-sharing platforms – YouTube, Facebook Watch and TikTok.

“We evaluated a total of 72 videos across these platforms, and our results showed that YouTube had the highest overall median quality score. With regards to the quality domains, all three platforms scored equally well in terms of accuracy, but had low comprehensiveness scores,” Dr Yap says.

Dr Yap believes that the stark difference in the quality of videos on the various platforms in the study’s results is mainly due to the duration of the videos, with a TikTok video lasting 0.9 minutes versus the median duration of 4.2 minutes on YouTube.

“Our results suggest that in general, a 10-min YouTube video may have a higher probability of being informative, compared to a 30 second TikTok video,” says Dr Yap. “However, it really depends on the intended message to the target audience. If the message to the audience is short and succinct, a 30 second TikTok video may be more effective.”

Dr Yap maintains that some videos did not provide full details about COVID-19 vaccine information, including suitable age groups for vaccines and contraindications (e.g., allergies to vaccine ingredients). Furthermore, the inaccuracies of some information in the videos were largely due to non-specific statements, such as some videos mentioning that pain was a side-effect of COVID-19 vaccines, but not specifically regarding the type of pain (e.g., pain at the injection site or muscle pain).

To be better-informed about the COVID-19 vaccine videos, Dr Yap encourages viewers to watch several videos from different platforms and be wary of sources.

“We advocate that viewers watch videos from authoritative sources, such as the World Health Organization, US Communicable Disease Centre (CDC), or governmental authorities and peer-reviewed journal publications, as well as those that provide supporting references and/or links to substantiate the claims made in the videos.”