“Down the rabbit hole” of vaccine misinformation on youtube: Network exposure study

Lu Tang, Kayo Fujimoto, Muhammad Amith, Rachel Cunningham, Rebecca A. Costantini, Felicia York, Grace Xiong, Julie A. Boom, Cui Tao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Social media platforms such as YouTube are hotbeds for the spread of misinformation about vaccines. Objective: The aim of this study was to explore how individuals are exposed to antivaccine misinformation on YouTube based on whether they start their viewing from a keyword-based search or from antivaccine seed videos. Methods: Four networks of videos based on YouTube recommendations were collected in November 2019. Two search networks were created from provaccine and antivaccine keywords to resemble goal-oriented browsing. Two seed networks were constructed from conspiracy and antivaccine expert seed videos to resemble direct navigation. Video contents and network structures were analyzed using the network exposure model. Results: Viewers are more likely to encounter antivaccine videos through direct navigation starting from an antivaccine video than through goal-oriented browsing. In the two seed networks, provaccine videos, antivaccine videos, and videos containing health misinformation were all found to be more likely to lead to more antivaccine videos. Conclusions: YouTube has boosted the search rankings of provaccine videos to combat the influence of antivaccine information. However, when viewers are directed to antivaccine videos on YouTube from another site, the recommendation algorithm is still likely to expose them to additional antivaccine information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23262
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Infodemic
  • Infodemiology
  • Misinformation
  • Network analysis
  • Vaccine
  • YouTube

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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