YouTube breeding ground for anti-vaccination views

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Flu Vaccination misinformation in YouTube

As cold and flu season hits this year amid growing debate over the necessity of vaccinations, University of Toronto researchers have uncovered widespread misinformation in related videos on YouTube.

In the first-ever study of its kind, U of T researchers Kumanan Wilson and Jennifer Keelan analyzed 153 videos about vaccination and immunization on YouTube, a popular online video-sharing site. Researchers found that more than half of the videos portrayed childhood, HPV, flu and other vaccinations negatively or ambiguously. Of those videos, a staggering 45 per cent contained messages that contradict the 2006 Canadian Immunization Guide, which provides national guidelines for immunization practices.

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"YouTube is increasingly a resource people consult for health information, including vaccination," said first author Keelan, a professor in U of T's Department of Public Health Sciences. "Our study shows that a significant amount of immunization content on YouTube contradicts the nation's reference standard. From a public health perspective, this is very concerning."

The research team also found that videos skeptical of vaccinations - many of them highly provocative and powerful - received more views and better ratings by YouTube users than those videos that portray immunizations in a positive light.

"Health care professionals need to be aware that individuals critical of immunization are using YouTube to communicate their viewpoints and that patients may be obtaining information from these videos" sayid Wilson, senior author and a professor with U of T's Department of Medicine. "YouTube users also need to be aware of this, so they can filter information from the site accordingly."

"The findings also indicate that public health officials should consider how to effectively communicate their viewpoints through Internet video portals," Wilson said.

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