May 18, 2020

Social media is playing a huge role in the consumption of news as people seek out information about the coronavirus pandemic. But COVID-19 conspiracy-based claims are also spreading amid reliable news.

“The 2019-nCOV outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ — an overabundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” the World Health Organization stated in a February situation report.

The latest viral craze is the documentary “Plandemic.” This 26-minute documentary focuses on former research scientist Dr. Judy Mikovits and documentary creator Mikki Willis as they dive into a realm of theories about the pandemic.

The video received over a million views while it was hosted on YouTube. It eventually was taken down late last week for violating YouTube’s community guidelines but has made its way to several other social media sites.

“The creators of the video directly encouraged people to share it,” said Alex Kaplan, senior researcher at the left-leaning Media Matters for America. “On the video’s website when the video was launched, they wrote: ‘In an effort to bypass the gatekeepers of free speech, we invite you to download this interview by simply clicking the button below, then uploading directly to all of your favorite platforms’.”

As reported by The Washington Post, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and Twitter have removed the video from their platforms, with explanations that the video provided “unsubstantiated diagnostic advice” or similar language.

And while these platforms are making strides in combating the spread of misleading health information, there are still smaller platforms where the video is being shared. BitChute, for example, has parts of the documentary with over 64,000 views as of May 14. Another site called Brighteon also hosts the video, with over 19,000 views as of May 14.

BitChute is a “peer-to-peer content sharing platform associated services.” In its community guidelines, BitChute lists freedom of expression as one, saying that the “right to freedom of expression does not just apply to information and ideas generally considered to be useful or correct. It also applies to any kind of fact or opinion that can be communicated.”

Brighteon has similar terms of service. They “allow [users] to post content, including videos, comments, descriptions, and other materials.”

The spread of misinformation is still hard to track when people are finding ways to get around flagged content. The sharing of misleading information during the COVID-19 pandemic is on the rise, but there are several ways to navigate what is fact and what is fiction.

“Be really careful about sharing content coming from places you haven’t heard of before just because it gives you some kind of emotion,” Kaplan said. “Take the time to do some research on the person(s) behind it or the claims made in it, and see if someone, like a fact-checker, has debunked it, before sharing.”

Aiyana Ishmael is a digital media intern at MediaWise through the Dow Jones News Fund. She is a rising senior at Florida A&M University and also the school’s student representative for the Online News Association. 

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