Earlier this year, YouTube started adding “information panels” to videos and searches about COVID-19, directing viewers to authoritative sources in an attempt to combat misinformation about the disease. Now, as work on a COVID-19 vaccine begins to show early results, the company is tweaking this panel to also link to info about vaccination.
It’s a small change to what is already a small intervention in the battle against online misinformation. For relevant videos, the panel will now prompt viewers to “learn about vaccine progress,” linking to sources like the CDC and WHO. The panels have already begun appearing in searches and under videos in the US, reports CNET, and should be rolling out globally in the next couple of days.
The new vaccine alert panel. Image: YouTube
YouTube certainly has the right idea here. As work on various COVID-19 vaccines progresses, it’s guaranteed that anti-vax conspiracy theorists will try to discourage people from being vaccinated — a trend that will directly harm the public’s health and prolong the damaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic. YouTube will certainly be a prime vector for this sort of misinformation, allowing conspiracy theorists to easily reach viewers.
However, the Google-owned company has not inspired confidence in its ability to handle misinformation of late. It’s declined to take down videos spreading falsehoods about the outcome of the US election, for example; behavior that is in marked contrast to that of Twitter and Facebook, which have been more active in labelling and removing false claims. Once the anti-vax movement gets started on any viable COVID-19 vaccine, tiny information boxes under conspiracy theory videos will be all too easy to ignore.