New Scientist Default Image

YouTube users are less willing to be vaccinated than others, the study found

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

People who use social media to obtain information are less willing to receive a coronavirus vaccine than others, according to a study.

The researchers surveyed 1476 adults and five focus groups in the UK in December 2020, as the vaccine roll-out got under way.

They found that YouTube users were significantly less willing to be vaccinated, with a 45 per cent probability of vaccine willingness.

Recommendations based on a person’s viewing history can create an echo chamber effect on YouTube, the researchers say.

“Misinformation proliferates on some social media platforms because users receive content suggestions aligned with their fears and watch histories, driving them into deeper rabbit holes,” said study author Melinda Mills from the University of Oxford, UK.

“Information is often presented by non-experts, with limited fact checking, making it difficult to gauge the accuracy or balance the information. There was often a knowledge void in understanding the risks.”

The study also found that distrust of government and low personal perceived risk from covid-19 were linked to vaccine hesitancy, as well as a misunderstanding that herd immunity had been achieved and that only vulnerable people need the vaccine.

“Although there are some who hold conspiratorial beliefs, many were simply trying to make sense of fragmented, dynamic and confusing information, often accessing social media for clarity,” said Mills.

The findings come despite efforts by the Google-owned platform to promote trusted sources during the pandemic, such as the National Health Service and the World Health Organization.

Last month, in collaboration with the NHS, YouTube launched a campaign to encourage young people to get their covid-19 vaccine when they become eligible.

Scientists are calling for action by governments, health officials and social media companies to resolve the issue.

“Misinformation thrives when there is a lack of trust in government, politics and elites with a broader lesson that authorities need to communicate truthfully, clearly and consistently,” said Will Jennings from the University of Southampton, UK, another author of the study.

Journal reference: Vaccines, DOI: 10.3390/vaccines9060593

Sign up to our free Health Check newsletter for a round-up of all the health and fitness news you need to know, every Saturday

More on these topics: