YouTube is a phenomenon. We’ve gotten so used to it (and its user generated content cousins) sometimes we don’t realize how potent it is. Potent and in the hands of all sorts of people. Creative, crazy, evil, well meaning, ordinary, boring . . . you get the idea. And getting ideas is another thing people get from YouTube. Sometimes the ideas are good. Sometimes not:
It may be better known as the place to go to watch a drunken David Hasselhoff eating a hamburger, but the video website YouTube has also become a popular and effective soapbox for people who believe vaccinations are harmful, a new scientific review reveals.
And public health authorities need to come to grips with the potential impact YouTube, Facebook and the whole Internet-based social-networking phenomenon could have on policies like universal vaccinations, suggested the authors, researchers from the University of Toronto and York University. (Helen Branswell, Canadian Press)
Unfiltered access to information, even when that information is bad, misleading or outright false, is a hallmark of the internet and YouTube provides it in a form that is unusually powerful, video. The public health community has been slow on the uptake. I talk a lot about internet communication with my colleagues and my students and, with some notable exceptions, there is disinterest or indifference, sometimes even hostility. So the field has been clear for those for whom the conventional wisdom of public health isn’t so wise. No sense complaining about it. It’s a new world.
For the record, I’m pro-vaccination (as my recent measles post should show). I got a flu shot and so did my 6 month old grandson. That doesn’t mean I think all vaccines are unproblematic all the time. That wouldn’t be reasonable, nor would it be reasonable to think adverse reactions won’t occur when tens or hundreds of millions people are vaccinated.
But consider the alternatives. We don’t have the plethora of childhood diseases common in my own youth, diseases that took tens of thousands of young lives a year. On a YouTube video an anecdote or even a genuine rare reaction has an immediacy with no immediate counterpart in a world where the diseases the vaccine prevented are absent.
It’s a new world. And we in public health need to start living in all parts of it.