YouTube, the video sharing platform owned by Google, announced this week it will start to ban all anti-COVID-19 vaccine information. An expert in social media studies from Western University says it is surprising that this decision took so long.
Anabel Quan-Haase, Western’s Rogers Chair in Studies in Journalism and New Information Technology, is available to media for comment.
“It is surprising that government regulations which apply and monitor legacy media like newspapers and television have not stepped in to regulate big players like Google,” said Quan-Haase, a professor in Western’s department of sociology and Faculty of Information and Media Studies.
In her role as Rogers Chair, Quan-Haase is examining the role of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on the informational and societal impacts of the technology.
“What is most worrisome, at this point, is that little is known about what a ban exactly means. It is difficult to evaluate the approach without the necessary information about the strategies Google will use. Transparency is a key component of the operation of digital platforms,” she said.
“Citizens have a right to know what information is being banned and how the information is being banned. This will allow proper evaluation whether or not the ban is effective in reducing anti-vaccine information. It is also important to know how the framework will be used in the future to ban other types of information.”
Social media platforms have become important conduits of information globally. Most Canadians own at least one social media account, and many are on social media daily. Quan-Haase says teens and young adults spend considerable amounts of time on social media.
“Among the myriad of platforms, about half of teens get their news from YouTube. And the majority of users of YouTube get their news from celebrities, influencers, and personalities rather than established news organizations,” said Quan-Haase.
“YouTube is a preferred source of information because of the sense of co-presence that video affords. This makes it particularly worrisome that misinformation regarding critical health topics like vaccine safety continue to be posted on the site. Misinformation on YouTube spreads like wildfire because of its networked nature. For users of YouTube, it is particularly difficult to discern the credibility of videos, as many videos are produced with the intention of conveying credibility.”
Quan-Haase is also the director of Western’s SocioDigital Media Laboratory and author of Technology and Society, the only Canadian textbook to examine the intersection of technology and society through theories and real-world examples.
Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official university policy on issues being addressed.
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