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This is not a Virus, it's Tyranny: Conspiracy and Partisanship about COVID19 on Canadian Youtube News Channels - 22 Jun 2021


Social media platforms have come under increasing scrutiny for spreading mis-and-disinformation about COVID-19. Research has shown that citizens who are misinformed about COVID-19, or who consume highly partisan news about the virus, are less likely to adopt preventative measures, like wearing a mask, and are less likely to get vaccinated against the virus. To understand how Canadian audiences find and discuss COVID-19 news on social media, we examine the structure of Canadian news and information networks on YouTube, the most popular social media platform used by Canadians. We examine the differences across local, national, alternative and “junk” news channels on the platform to explore how audiences watching these channels discuss COVID-19, measuring the extent to which conspiracy and partisanship are a part of Canadian discourse about the Coronavirus on YouTube. We found that most citizens watching news on Canadian YouTube channels used neutral frames, discussing the virus without a conspiratorial or partisan tilt. However, the distribution of neutral comments was not even across the dataset, with 77% of comments on junk news channels representing partisan commentary about the virus. Despite early debunking efforts by health authorities and government officials, many conspiracies about the origin of the virus continued to permeate discussion about COVID-19 in local and national news comments on YouTube.


In this report, we examine the structure of Canadian news and information networks on YouTube, the most popular social media platform used by Canadians. We examine the differences across local, national, alternative and “junk” news channels on the platform to evaluate whether certain kinds of news content or channels produce more engagement or interactions than others. We also explore how audiences watching these channels discuss COVID19. In particular, we measure the extent to which conspiracy and partisanship are a part of Canadian discourse about the Coronavirus on YouTube. We look across different segments of the Canadian media on YouTube to analyze whether certain audiences are more likely to discuss Coronavirus conspiracies or adopt partisan frames. We found:

• Despite concerns over the proliferation of mis-and-disinformation about the coronavirus on social media, most citizens discussing the pandemic on Canadian YouTube news channels engaged in neutral information sharing practices, discussing COVID-19 without a clear ideological or conspiratorial tilt.

• Although neutral comments made up most of the comments, the distribution of neutral comments was not even across the Canadian news ecosystem on YouTube. Compared to local, national, or alternative news outlets, junk news channels maintained the lowest number of neutral comments, and the highest number of partisan comments (77%) proportional to their audiences.

• The most discussed conspiracies by audiences watching news about COVID19 on YouTube were related to the virus being a Chinese bioweapon, blaming China for intentionally spreading the virus, and accusing marginalized groups (e.g., immigrants, Muslims, and refugees) for further spreading the virus. Despite debunking efforts by health authorities and government officials, many conspiracies about the origin of the virus continued to permeate discussion about COVID-19 in local and national news comments on YouTube.


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Details

  • Publisher: Oxford Information Labs
  • File Type: PDF
  • Page Count: 27
  • File Size: 947 KB
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