How Covid-19 misinformation is still going viral

Despite pledges from the big social media companies to remove dangerous coronavirus misinformation, from false causes to false cures, Silicon Valley and fact-checkers around the world are struggling to stem the flow of false claims about the pandemic. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports.

Posted: May 8, 2020 8:21 PM
Updated: May 8, 2020 8:21 PM

Despite pledges from the big social media companies to remove dangerous coronavirus misinformation, from false causes to false cures, Silicon Valley and fact-checkers around the world are struggling to stem the flow of false claims about the pandemic.

Just this week, a viral video clocked up millions of views and clicks across Facebook and YouTube before the companies took action.

"I've not seen a video of this type gain this kind of viral traction so quickly," Alan Duke, the editor in chief of Lead Stories, a fact-checking group that works with Facebook told CNN Thursday.

As of Thursday afternoon, a book featuring the subject of the video had shot to number one on the Amazon bestsellers list, where it remained on Friday. Asked about it, an Amazon spokesperson told CNN, "This book does not violate our content guidelines."

Experts in tracking disinformation told CNN that different groups that push conspiracy theories, like QAnon and anti-vaccine activists, have found common ground in peddling false and misleading claims about Covid-19.

The many unknowns about COVID-19, because of its novel nature and the speed and scale at which it has spread, along with an anxious public understandably looking for answers, have created the perfect conditions for conspiracy theories to thrive.

Since it emerged Russia ran a disinformation campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election, "we've been obsessed about political disinformation," noted Claire Wardle, the director of First Draft, a nonprofit that tracks online misinformation. But she warned that now medical misinformation could cost lives — for instance discouraging people from getting a coronavirus vaccine, if one becomes available.

Silicon Valley has developed COVID-19 specific policies since at least January. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told CNN last month, "if someone's spreading something that puts people at imminent risk of physical harm, then we take that down."

But the video that went viral Wednesday was viewed at least 3 million times on YouTube and, according to data from social media analytics platform BuzzSumo, Facebook posts linking to the video had been liked, shared, or commented on well in excess of 10 million times as of Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company was removing the video based on one of the dangerous claims that was made in it.

"Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could lead to imminent harm, so we're removing the video," Stone said Thursday afternoon.

Earlier, a YouTube spokesperson told CNN that the video was being removed for making claims about a cure for COVID-19 that had not been backed by health organizations.

Despite both companies' pledges to remove the video, copies of it were still circulating on both platforms on Thursday evening, with new versions of the video being uploaded to YouTube throughout the day.

Twitter did not implement a blanket ban on the video like the ones put in place Facebook and YouTube. A Twitter spokesperson said the company was not doing so because the platform's technology does not allow for users to post clips as long as the full video is. But, the spokesperson said, if people do upload parts of the video directly to Twitter, the company the company would evaluate those clips. Links to the video on other platforms were not being removed from Twitter though some links were being marked as "unsafe," meaning users will see a warning before proceeding to the video, the spokesperson added.

Wardle said people should be cautious when reading or sharing content on social media and pointed out that misinformation is often financially or ideologically motivated.

Further complicating the work of fact-checkers and social media companies is governments pointing fingers and playing the blame game — sometimes spreading objective falsehoods.

CNN reported last week on the case of Maatje Benassi, a US Army reservist and mother of two, who is being accused by conspiracy theorists of starting the pandemic. The claims have been amplified by media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, itself trying to deflect blame for its role in the crisis.

In March, the State Department summoned China's ambassador in Washington hours after a prominent Chinese official suggested that the US military may have been responsible for bringing the coronavirus to Wuhan.

On the other side, President Donald Trump contradicted his own intelligence community by claiming he had seen evidence the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab. Intelligence shared among US allies indicated the virus more likely came from a market in Wuhan, and not a lab.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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