A new memo from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, has found very limited amounts of “junk” or conspiratorial health content among the most popular searches for COVID-19 content on YouTube, although such controversial content is over ten times more likely to receive comments from its viewers.  

While there are high volumes of content from established news outlets, official information from government and public health agencies only accounts for 0.3% of the videos served up when searching for terms relating to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The study of 320 videos also found that users searching for coronavirus news and information related to China are more likely to come across politicized or “junk” content than through any other search query examined by researchers. 

 Nahema Marchal, doctoral candidate at the OII and researcher on the Computational Propaganda team, said: 

Our research shows instances of misleading and junk information relating to COVID-19 on YouTube are minimal among popular search queries. However, this content is far more likely to encourage engagement from those who choose to view it. 

Professor Philip Howard, Director, Oxford Internet Institute, added:  

Only 0.3% of the top YouTube search results on coronavirus were videos from governments or public health agencies. This perhaps presents an opportunity for public agencies to make greater use of YouTube to share vital information and advice on the pandemic with the public.” 

This memo is one of a series that will examine misinformation in the debate around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 Notes for editors: 

The full memo is available on the Computational Propaganda project website.

For media enquiries please contact Nahema Marchal (UK-based) or Hubert Au (based in Hong Kong) 

Research and comment from OII researchers on COVID-19 will be published on the COVID-19 section of the OII website

About the Oxford Internet Institute 

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good. https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/