A new study has found that YouTube is rife with misinformation about good sleep habits.
The study, led by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, US, revealed an “alarming” amount of medical misinformation within videos discussing sleep disorders on the platform.
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Even worse, “popular” videos from bloggers containing both misinformation and consumer bias appear to attract far more views than expert-led videos.
Insomnia and sleeplessness rates have been skyrocketing in recent years, and while there are countless supposed solutions available online, not all treatments or approaches are valid.
Lead study author Rebecca Robbins, PhD, Investigator in the Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, warns that “a lot of popular YouTube videos have clickbait and appeal to shorter attention spans. People today often want very bite-sized pieces of information.”
However, “science is fundamentally more nuanced than a one-liner or the 280 characters in a Twitter post,” she said.
Key terms ‘insomnia,’ ‘sleep tips’
The research team searched YouTube using key terms such as “insomnia” and “sleep tips,” to identify and label popular YouTube videos focusing on sleep medicine. They then sorted those videos by views, with those with the highest number of views counting as “popular.”
The team compared popular videos to actual and credible sources identified by a feature on YouTube that places content from healthcare systems at the top of search results for health-related queries.
Next, researchers analyzed videos for information quality. The team of sleep experts were trained to identify misinformation using validated health communications assessment tools.
Videos garnering the most views were usually made by bloggers (42.9 percent), followed by medical professionals (33.3 percent), and health coaches (23.8 percent).
Popular videos averaged about 8.2 million views, but those led by experts received only 300,000 views.
Not a single one of the studied expert-led videos contained commercial bias, or the promotion of a product or service.
However, 66.7 percent of popular videos featured these biases. Despite popular videos containing far more disinformation, study authors couldn’t identify any differences in the understandability of content presented by the two types of videos.
The researchers believe that people seem to favor bloggers over actual medical professionals because content creators can produce engaging, esthetically appealing, and relatable media.
“Medical misinformation, including what’s found in some videos about sleep disorders, can lead to patients avoiding care or receiving the wrong care and can be detrimental to patient outcomes,” senior study author Stuart Quan, MD, Clinical Chief and Medical Director of the Brigham’s Sleep Disorders Service in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders added.
The study authors admitted that the types of videos that are popular nowadays tend to change very quickly. Moreover, they would like to see more studies in the future focusing on medical misinformation on other platforms besides YouTube – like TikTok and Instagram.
The research team is also hopeful that YouTube and other platforms will continue working on ways to make sure accurate information is prioritized and shown first to users.
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