In an unprecedented escalation in social media companies’ efforts to police false information, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all removed a video on COVID-19 that President Trump had promoted Monday evening.
The video, which claims that COVID-19 has a cure and discourages people from wearing masks, featured members of a group calling themselves America’s Frontline Doctors speaking in Washington, D.C., in front of the Supreme Court. COVID-19 currently has no cure, and multiple scientific studies have shown that masks are effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
After the video racked up millions of views on Facebook in just a few hours, a spokesperson for the company said it was removed “for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19.” A spokesperson for Twitter told Business Insider, “Tweets with the video are in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy. We are taking action in line with our policy.”
America’s Frontline Doctors did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the video’s removal. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., introduced the group in the video.
Dr. Simone Gold, who is listed as the group’s founder, had previously signed on to a May letter calling for the country to reopen. At the time, she told the Associated Press that there was “no scientific basis that the average American should be concerned” about COVID-19 and that younger people should return to work.
In a string of retweets Monday night, Trump promoted the drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 and also promoted a podcast interview stating that Dr. Anthony Fauci had “misled the American people on many issues.”
In an attempt to find a quick-fix solution to the pandemic, Trump has promoted hydroxychloroquine for months and claims to have taken doses himself. In June, the Food and Drug Administration ended the emergency use of the antimalarial drug for COVID-19, and the National Institutes of Health announced it was ending its clinical trial because hydroxychloroquine was “very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients.” In July, the World Health Organization discontinued its recommendation for the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 after research showed “little or no reduction” in mortality from the medication.
The America’s Frontline Doctors video, which was heavily promoted by the right-wing news site Breitbart, was also retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. On Tuesday morning, an adviser for the president’s eldest son said Trump Jr.’s account had been suspended for 12 hours for spreading potentially misleading or harmful information about COVID-19.
On Monday, Trump said social distancing was important, but he immediately undercut the message by stating, “I really do believe governors should be opening up states they’re not opening, and we’ll have to see what happens with them.” More than 148,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, according to tracking from Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Stella Immanuel, one of the participants in the video, responded to Facebook’s pulling it by threatening the company with the wrath of God.
“Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers with start crashing till you do,” Immanuel wrote on Twitter late Monday. “You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book will be down in Jesus name.”
Immanuel is also a minister, with sermons posted to YouTube. The description of one upload reads, “How long are we going to allow the gay agenda, secular humanism, Illuminati and the demonic New World Order to destroy our homes, families and the social fiber of America.” Immanuel has also claimed that some medical issues are caused by dream sex with demons and that alien DNA is currently being used in some medical treatments.
Fauci addressed the tweets and false claims in a Tuesday interview with “Good Morning America.”
“The overwhelming prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease,” Fauci said, while reiterating the importance of masks.
As for the personal attacks, Fauci said he is ignoring them.
“I don’t tweet. I don’t even read them, so I don’t really want to go there,” he said. “I just will continue to do my job no matter what comes out because I think it’s very important. We’re in the middle of a crisis with regard to an epidemic, a pandemic. This is what I do.”
The video is not the first containing COVID-19 misinformation to go viral. Earlier this year, the “Plandemic” video, sharing virus-related conspiracies, was pulled from social media networks after being viewed by millions. The discredited researcher in that video, Judy Mikovits, was set to appear in a segment on the Sinclair Broadcasting Group — which owns local television stations nationwide — saying Fauci was responsible for creating the coronavirus. On Monday, Sinclair said it would not be airing the segment, although the video was briefly published on the web.
“Upon further review, we have decided not to air the interview with Dr. Mikovits,” a spokesperson for Sinclair told CNN Business in a statement. “Although the segment did include an expert to dispute Dr. Mikovits, given the nature of the theories she presented we believe it is not appropriate to air the interview.”
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