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The Networked Context of COVID-19 Misinformation: Informational Homogeneity on YouTube at the Beginning of the Pandemic

Authors
  • Röchert, Daniel1
  • Shahi, Gautam Kishore1
  • Neubaum, German1
  • Ross, Björn2
  • Stieglitz, Stefan1
  • 1 University of Duisburg-Essen, Duisburg, Germany
  • 2 The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Type
Published Article
Journal
Online Social Networks and Media
Publisher
Elsevier B.V.
Publication Date
Aug 30, 2021
Volume
26
Pages
100164–100164
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.osnem.2021.100164
PMID: 34493994
PMCID: PMC8413843
Source
PubMed Central
Keywords
Disciplines
  • Article
License
Unknown

Abstract

During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the video-sharing platform YouTube has been serving as an essential instrument to widely distribute news related to the global public health crisis and to allow users to discuss the news with each other in the comment sections. Along with these enhanced opportunities of technology-based communication, there is an overabundance of information and, in many cases, misinformation about current events. In times of a pandemic, the spread of misinformation can have direct detrimental effects, potentially influencing citizens' behavioral decisions (e.g., to not socially distance) and putting collective health at risk. Misinformation could be especially harmful if it is distributed in isolated news cocoons that homogeneously provide misinformation in the absence of corrections or mere accurate information. The present study analyzes data gathered at the beginning of the pandemic (January–March 2020) and focuses on the network structure of YouTube videos and their comments to understand the level of informational homogeneity associated with misinformation on COVID-19 and its evolution over time. This study combined machine learning and network analytic approaches. Results indicate that nodes (either individual users or channels) that spread misinformation were usually integrated in heterogeneous discussion networks, predominantly involving content other than misinformation. This pattern remained stable over time. Findings are discussed in light of the COVID-19 “infodemic” and the fragmentation of information networks.

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