The UK public broadcaster searched YouTube across ten languages and discovered more than 80 videos that contained misinformation about health claims, mostly involving bogus cancer cures, and ten of them had more than a million views.
As well as videos in English, the BBC research covered content aired in Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Ukrainian.
It found, for example, that a simple search for “cancer treatment” in Russian linked to videos that advocated drinking baking soda, and these in turn led to recommendations for other unproven treatments, such as carrot juice or extreme fasting.
Other videos promoted drinking donkey’s milk or boiling water and, according to the BBC, none of the so-called cures were clinically proven to cure cancer.
The BBC further pointed out that YouTube announced in January that it would reduce recommendations of “borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways – such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness”.
However, YouTube said at the time that this would be “gradual change” and “initially will only affect recommendations of a very small set of videos in the United States”. In other words, it would not apply to languages other than English.
With brand safety still a serious concern for the digital advertising industry, the BBC found that several major brands – as well as universities – got caught up with their pre-roll ads appearing before the dubious content.
They included Clinique, Kraft Heinz, Samsung, writing app Grammarly, travel website Booking.com as well as the University of East Anglia and the University of Gloucestershire.
All these companies and universities distanced themselves from the misleading content, with Kraft Heinz saying it has taken steps to “block this channel” while Samsung said it “follows and insists on the highest brand safety guidelines on all advertising platforms it uses”.
Sourced from BBC, YouTube; additional content by WARC staff