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YouTube begins verifying health information sources in the UK

Interestingly, YouTube is currently not allowing certain types of for-profit healthcare brands and channels run by pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, or medical device companies to be listed as authoritative sources.

We missed this earlier: On September 8, the BBC reported that YouTube has launched a verification system for healthcare workers in the UK. Now, when someone searches for health-related content on the platform they are met with a health shelf— a list of videos explicitly labeled to be from medical sources. Moreover, when a user watches a health-related video, they would now see an information panel under it that provides context on the source. 

Speaking to the BBC, Vishaal Virani, head of UK health at YouTube said that the feature was important “due to the sheer number of people accessing healthcare information” on the platform. Based on YouTube’s blog, the health shelf and context label features are currently available for health-focused YouTube channels in the US, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, France, and the UK.

Who gets listed under the health shelf?

YouTube started the process of verifying healthcare professionals in the US first. It mentions that it used a set of principles and definitions developed by a panel of experts convened by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), and reviewed by the American Public Health Association (APHA) to identify verifiable health sources. As the health shelf feature was expanded on, it began relying on the work of the World Health Organization which, in collaboration with NAM and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (CMSS), released a set of guidelines for identifying credible health information sources on social media back in 2022

These guidelines suggest that health sources should be science-based, objective, transparent, and accountable. Organizations with pre-existing, standardized vetting mechanisms (like healthcare organizations, public health departments, and government organizations) can be considered authoritative sources of health information. The vetting mechanism followed by these organizations should be—accreditation, academic journal indexing, and government accountability rules. 

Eligibility checks for non-accredited organizations/ for individuals:

Meeting principles for credible health information sources online: As stated earlier, YouTube worked with CMSS, WHO, and NAM to define credible health sources online. As such, any individual or non-accredited organization must meet the following principles to be an authoritative source of health information—

Source: CMSS

For the UK, non-accredited organizations/individuals must meet the principles set out by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC, the coordinating body for the United Kingdom and Ireland’s 24 Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties). These principles suggest that health information should be evidence-based, must be produced using consistent and documented processes, should be transparent and accountable, and be readily accessible to the intended audience. According to the report by BBC, those who violate these guidelines could potentially lose their validation status, or even their YouTube account altogether. The AoMRC says that those engaging in wilful breach of the principles may warrant action by individual professional regulators. It is unclear if there will be similar regulatory action in other countries as well.

Must be a licensed healthcare professional: Those applying to be an authoritative source must be licensed in one of these health professions in the country/region they are applying from —

  • Licensed Doctor (eligible to practice medicine in the relevant country)
  • Licensed Nurse/Registered Nurse
  • Licensed Psychologist or equivalent
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or equivalent
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker or equivalent

Those applying on behalf of their organization must also have a license in one of these professions. They must have oversight and review of the content your organization posts on YouTube.

Who cannot be listed as an authoritative source of health information?

It is notable that YouTube is currently not allowing certain types of for-profit healthcare brands (it does not state which companies are included in this) and channels run by pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, or medical device companies to be listed as authoritative sources. Given that these businesses are profit-driven, allowing them to present health information as authoritative sources could lead to a potential conflict of interest and end up providing biased information to the users. 

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