A YouTube video claiming to be a public service announcement from the 1950s has gone viral. The video warns of a virus that will break out by the year 2020. But did experts really predict a 2020 virus more than 60 years ago? Here’s how we fact-checked it.
Look for evidence
When you come across suspicious claims, look for any proof that what the person is saying is true. Turning to the YouTube description to see if it provides any further information or sources, we instead found this: “I only threw this together because I wanted to have a video uploaded on February 29th.” The YouTuber also states in the description that the footage came from Archive.org.
Try a “Lateral Reading”
To ensure you get the full story, try practicing a skill the Stanford History Education Group calls “lateral reading.” Basically, instead of doing a keyword search and just reading one article up and down, you’re going to open up a bunch of tabs and read laterally across all of them.
According to Snopes, the video combines modern-day narration with a mix of archival footage. Some of the footage came from movies like the 1956 film “Tornado” and “Leave It To Roll-Oh” from the 1940s.
Snopes wrote that this was meant to be satire. The biggest clue that this video was meant to be a joke was probably the fact that right after the narrator says they will provide the answers for avoiding the deadly virus, the video cuts to a screen that says “footage missing.”
USA Today also reported that this was meant to be a satirical video, and that it was made in 2020. According to the article, the creator of the video, Max Patrick Schlienger, recorded the voiceover himself.
According to the Reuters fact check, Schlienger told Reuters via email that he was “a little bit disheartened” that his work was being spread as misinformation, and said, “My hope is that it’s nonetheless entertaining people and hopefully doing some good.”
Understanding satire vs. misinformation
Satire is false information that’s meant to be a joke, and it usually makes fun of an issue or recent events through irony or exaggeration. But when satire is shared as fact, it becomes misinformation. While the video itself was made for comedic purposes and it clearly states that in the YouTube description, the “PSA” resurfaced on other platforms, particularly Facebook. One Facebook caption says the video “was made on Feb. 29, 1956, 65 years ago.” Notably missing is the fact that this video … isn’t real. This is a prime example of why it’s important to find the original source of a claim before resharing.
Bonus tip: Be careful when you see claims jump from platform to platform. While the YouTube description makes it clear this was a joke, versions on other platforms conveniently left out that detail.
This should come as no surprise, this PSA video is Not Legit. The video was created in the year 2020, not 1956, and the video’s creator has clarified that this was just meant to be funny.