In a video posted online Monday, a group of people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Physicians” and wearing white medical gowns spoke in the context of the Supreme Court in Washington, sharing misleading claims about the virus, including hydroxychloroquine, which was an effective treatment against coronavirus and that the masks did not stop the spread of the virus.
The video didn’t seem to be anything special. But within six hours, President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had tweeted versions of him, and the right-wing news site Breitbart had shared it. It went viral, it was shared largely through Facebook groups dedicated to anti-vaccination movements and conspiracy theories like QAnon, racking up tens of millions of visits. Several versions of the video were uploaded to YouTube and links were shared via Twitter.
Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter worked feverishly to remove it, but by the time they did, the video had already become the latest example of widely spread misinformation about the virus.
That was because the video had been specifically designed to appeal to Internet conspirators and conservatives eager to see the reopening of the economy, with setting and characters to give authenticity. It showed that despite the fact that social media companies have sped up the response time to remove misinformation about dangerous viruses within a few hours of their publication, people have continued to find new ways to bypass platform safeguards.
“Misinformation about a deadly virus has turned into political fodder, which was later spread by many people who are trusted by its constituents,” said Lisa Kaplan, founder of the Alethea Group, a startup that helps combat disinformation. “If only one person heard someone spread these falsehoods and subsequently took an action that caused others to catch, spread, or even die from the virus, that person is too much.”
One of the speakers in the video, who identified herself as Dr. Stella Immanuel, said: “No masks are needed” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She also claimed that she was treating hundreds of coronavirus-infected patients with hydroxychloroquine, and claimed that it was an effective treatment. The claims have been repeatedly disputed by the medical establishment.
President Trump repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, in the first months of the crisis. In June, he said he would take it himself. But that same month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked the emergency authorization for the drug for patients with Covid-19 and said it was “unlikely to be effective” and carried potential risks. The National Institutes of Health stopped clinical trials of the drug.
Furthermore, studies have repeatedly shown that masks are effective in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.
The trajectory of Monday’s video mirrored that of “Plandemic,” a skillfully produced 26-minute narrative that spread widely in May and falsely claimed that a shadow elite clique was using the virus and a potential vaccine for profit and profit. power. In just over a week, “Plandemic” was viewed over eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram before being removed.
But the video released on Monday had more views than “Plandemic” within hours of being posted online, even though it was removed much faster. At least one version of the video, seen by The Times on Facebook, was viewed more than 16 million times.
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed multiple versions of the video on Monday night. All three companies said the video violated their policies on sharing erroneous information related to the coronavirus.
On Tuesday morning, Twitter also cracked down on Donald Trump Jr. after he shared a link to the video. A Twitter spokesperson said the company had ordered Mr. Trump to remove the misleading tweet and said it would “limit some account functionality for 12 hours.” Twitter took similar action against Kelli Ward, the president of the Arizona Republican Party, who also tweeted the video.
No action was taken against the president, who retweeted multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers on Monday night. The original posts have since been removed.
When asked about the video on Tuesday, Trump continued to defend the doctors involved and the treatments they support.
“For some reason, the Internet wanted to tear them down and remove them,” the president said. “I think they are highly respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in his statements in this regard, who was extremely successful and his voice was taken away from him. I don’t know why they took her away. Maybe they had a good reason, maybe not.
Facebook and YouTube did not respond to questions about multiple versions of the video that remained online Tuesday afternoon. Twitter said it “continued to take action on new and existing tweets with the video.”
Members of the group behind Monday’s video say they are doctors treating patients infected with the coronavirus. But it was unclear where many of them practice medicine or how many patients they had actually seen. Back in May, conservative anti-Obamacare activists, called The Tea Party Patriots Action, worked with some of them to advocate for loosening state restrictions on elective surgeries and non-emergency care. On July 15, the group registered a website called “United States Frontline Doctors,” domain registration records show.
One of the first copies of the video that appeared Monday was posted on the Tea Party Patriots YouTube channel, along with other videos featuring members of “America’s Frontline Doctors.”
Doctors have also been promoted by conservatives like Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a nonprofit media organization.