A hashtag that originated on Twitter pushing a conspiracy theory about the coronavirus and downplaying its impact is now spreading on TikTok, despite the platform’s anti-misinformation policy. A host for conspiracy theory outlet Infowars is serving as the hashtag's biggest amplifier on the platform.
In late March, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread throughout the United States, some right-wing figures such as former Fox News host Todd Starnes started filming the outside of hospitals to suggest, as described by NBC News, “that the pandemic has been overblown by public health organizations and the media.” The conspiracy theory spread over social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. On Twitter, an account supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory created a hashtag for the conspiracy theory called #filmyourhospital, encouraging more people to push it.
That conspiracy theory hashtag has since spread on TikTok -- where it and a spinoff hashtag called #filmyourhospitalchallenge are searchable hashtags -- with videos pushing it over the past few days racking up more than 48,000 total views (and climbing). This TikTok trend comes despite the platform’s January announcement of a major update to its community guidelines, which now include a section on “misleading information” stating that the platform does “not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public” and that it will “remove misinformation that could cause harm to an individual's health or wider public safety.”
The #filmyourhospital TikTok video with the most views as of the afternoon of April 3 (more than 22,000 views) comes from Owen Shroyer, a host on Infowars, an outlet that has already been banned from most major social media platforms. In the video -- whose caption encourages people to “Take Part In The #filmyourhospital Takedown Of The Fake News Media” -- Shroyer and Infowars Nightly News Director Rob Dew discuss whether “all of these numbers” about the impact of the virus on hospitals are “just fake.”
Another user using the hashtag posted a video of an Infowars clip on the topic featuring host Alex Jones and a voiceover from radio host Rush Limbaugh downplaying the virus. The video has received thousands of views.
Multiple videos pushing the hashtag have also come from accounts pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory, which have become a growing problem on the platform. In one video from a QAnon account, which shows Twitter content pushing the conspiracy theory, someone says, “You’re going to see something that the media’s not showing you. In fact, you’re going to see something that’s contrary to what the media’s showing you.” The video has nearly 10,000 views.
Some users have also received thousands of views collectively from uploading recordings of the outside of hospitals, using the hashtag and pushing the conspiracy theory. In one video -- which features the letter “Q” in the bottom-right corner, possibly in reference to QAnon -- a user tells viewers “dont believe the media” about the conditions of hospitals.
The spread of the conspiracy theory hashtag on TikTok comes as the platform continues to struggle with moderating and enforcing its anti-misinformation policy with regard to coronavirus misinformation, along with other political misinformation.