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: 313942

Reported Deaths: 7240
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21580258
Hinds20330415
Harrison17879309
Rankin13594278
Jackson13429246
Madison10088217
Lee9970174
Jones8370163
Forrest7670152
Lauderdale7188241
Lowndes6387146
Lamar622486
Lafayette6184118
Washington5332133
Bolivar4801132
Oktibbeha462198
Panola4582106
Pearl River4506146
Marshall4435103
Warren4386121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4107133
Union410076
Neshoba4030176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock378486
Leflore3493125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3316105
Scott315773
Alcorn312768
Yazoo311469
Itawamba299777
Copiah296865
Coahoma295179
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Prentiss279760
Adams278782
Marion269080
Leake267473
Wayne262641
Grenada261386
Covington258281
George247848
Newton246261
Winston227081
Tishomingo226667
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182433
Tallahatchie178541
Clarke177980
Calhoun170532
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105226
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96533
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67230
Jefferson65528
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531404

Reported Deaths: 10985
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765501522
Mobile41036805
Madison34789503
Tuscaloosa25788453
Montgomery24340589
Shelby23449249
Baldwin21154308
Lee15882171
Calhoun14511314
Morgan14306279
Etowah13843353
Marshall12232223
Houston10570281
Elmore10068205
Limestone9974151
Cullman9676194
St. Clair9661243
Lauderdale9427241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8227176
Walker7241277
Autauga6926108
Jackson6814112
Blount6678137
Colbert6306134
Coffee5519119
Dale4838111
Russell441538
Chilton4296112
Franklin426082
Covington4129118
Tallapoosa4023152
Escambia393677
Chambers3573123
Dallas3551152
Clarke351161
Marion3122101
Pike310977
Lawrence300398
Winston274473
Bibb260964
Geneva250477
Marengo249564
Pickens234461
Barbour231057
Hale223077
Butler216069
Fayette212562
Henry188844
Cherokee185245
Randolph180542
Monroe177540
Washington167339
Macon159650
Clay156756
Crenshaw152557
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107628
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
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