Facebook, YouTube and other social networks are struggling to remove a viral video that includes various conspiracy theories about the pandemic, highlighting the challenges that come with moderating dangerous content online.
The nearly 26-minute video is part of a series of clips being released ahead of a documentary called Plandemic that the filmmakers say "will expose the scientific and political elite who run the scam that is our global health system." It includes claims that have been debunked and makes other allegations without evidence.
Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are taking steps to remove the video or reduce its spread, the companies said. But despite these efforts, Plandemic videos continue to pop up. Some Facebook users were sharing the video in public groups but linking to other sites that aren't as well known as YouTube, or to the documentary's website.
Two simple searches on YouTube on Friday morning found nine copies of the video, with a combined 295,000 views. After CNET contacted YouTube with links to the copies, all but one were removed for violating community guidelines.
Of the nine copies, the one that remained up is a reaction video, underscoring the complications platforms like YouTube face moderating posts that contain conspiracy theories. YouTube's policies allow some videos citing conspiracy theories to remain up if the purpose of the clips is to debunk misinformation. But this reaction video replays the Plandemic video virtually in full, adding commentary that fails to clearly debunk the claims. However, at 42 minutes long, verifying that this kind of video violates YouTube's policies is more nuanced than simply identifying a cut-and-dried copy.
The original video features Judy Mikovits, a controversial former medical researcher who repeats conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, including the idea wearing a mask could make you sick because it could expose you to your own "reactivated coronavirus expressions." Mikovits' comments conflict with advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says everyone should wear a face cover to protect others in case you're infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
"Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could lead to imminent harm, so we're removing the video," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
Mikovits, a vocal critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases, also suggested the virus had been engineered, saying it wasn't a "natural occurrence." Scientists widely believe the virus jumped from animals to human beings, and the US Intelligence Community took the unusual step of publicly saying it believed the virus wasn't "manmade or genetically modified."
The video includes allegations that coronavirus deaths are higher than they should be because doctors are being incentivized to say their patients died from the virus to get money from a national health insurance program. There is no evidence that case numbers are being inflated.
A YouTube spokesman said the company will remove videos that include "medically unsubstantiated diagnostic advice for COVID-19." Plandemic videos racked up a combined 4.7 million views on YouTube on Monday and Tuesday, according to BuzzSumo, a social media tool.
Twitter said it was blocking the hashtags #PlagueOfCorruption and #Plandemicmovie from its trending section. Mikovits tweeted a separate video in which she urged President Donald Trump to end the lockdown and stop requiring people to wear masks, calling the face coverings "dangerous."
Twitter said Mikovits' tweet didn't violate its rules against harmful coronavirus misinformation but said the link to her video was marked as unsafe, which limits its spread. (Twitter displays a notice that posts may contain "potentially sensitive content" depending on each user's settings.) The video Mikovits shared had more than 1 million views on YouTube and is currently still up. Twitter also marked a link to the documentary's website as unsafe. Twitter said it wasn't removing the links because users are refuting claims made in the Plandemic video and the links serve as context. The full Plandemic video could be found on Twitter as recently as late Thursday afternoon without having to click on an external link. Twitter said parts of the video may violate its rules but didn't offer more details.
Keeping the video off social media has proven to be a game of content moderation whack-a-mole for tech firms. Social networks have been trying to combat misinformation by directing users to more trustworthy sources including the CDC and the World Health Organization.
Mikki Willis, the filmmaker behind Plandemic, said in an email that he doesn't plan to appeal the takedowns of the videos, but added that he was "working on a strategy to bypass the gatekeepers." The producers of the video have encouraged viewers to download a copy of the video and upload it to social media platforms.