YouTube upholds personal health stories to support combat misinformation

YouTube historically hasn’t been an excellent place to turn for health information. Research has shown that inaccurate or misleading videos are everywhere, and the algorithm can push those videos to more people.

The team is guided by Garth Graham, a cardiologist and ex-US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health. He’s the director and global head of YouTube’s healthcare and public health partnerships.

Surfacing good information is just as important as removing insufficient information, YouTube’s head of public health partnerships said. Last year, the platform launched a team to build relationships with medical groups to shift trajectory and give people more reliable health information, with the ultimate goal of adding videos with reliable health info to the platform.

As another component of those efforts, the YouTube health team launched a Personal Stories shelf last month, which surfaces relevant videos of people talking about their own experiences with a health condition someone might be searching for. To start, they feature stories on cancer, stress, and depression.

The feature was motivated by YouTube employee Maya Amoils, who died from ovarian cancer last year. After her diagnosis, she sought connections with other people who had comparable experiences.

“That kind of encouraged a lot of this work, where we were trying to think via how you learn from other people’s journeys,” Graham said.

When you’re thinking about misinformation on YouTube, you have two issues — how to combat misinformation and surface good information. So how do you balance those?

That’s a lesson that healthcare learned at the 10,000-foot level with COVID-19. People have questions, and they want answers. But, unfortunately, they can’t get in touch with their local health authorities to ask them all the different questions they have, or they can’t get in touch with their clinician on a Tuesday night when they’re wondering, “What should I do next?”

There are two kinds of tools and strategies that we’ve been employing here. One approach before was to link people to information from your traditional evidence-based science services: your hospital, CDC, and government authorities.

People also want to hear about other journeys individuals have had with particular diseases. The idea was to bring an authentic lived experience relevant to a specific physical or mental health condition that people search for. Although accurate, we’ve leaned more towards those experiences that help promote health information.

Personal experiences can be comforting, but what works for one person might not work for everyone, and people sometimes pursue types of care that aren’t evidence-based.

We have a team of clinicians. And we first start by ensuring that it isn’t outside the realm of traditional evidence-based health information. So our basis is to ensure that everything was clinically validated and screened for digital misinformation. But beyond that, we want to allow all the variations of experiences that people would have from a health perspective.

People love to tell their stories, and people love to listen to stories. So as clinicians, we tend to have these conversations with patients about critical diagnoses, then we leave and go on to the subsequent patient. And they’re left with all of these questions and emotions.

Misinformation leads patients down the wrong path. But you might have also seen patients who have not received the information that would help them make the right decision and so don’t make the right decision. We often assume that someone who has done something wrong has some hostile intent. But many times, people just aren’t empowered.

Some things can induce harm. People can engage in decisions and information that can cause damage. There are particular stakes at play that we take earnestly.