Multiple posts of a viral video making false claims about the novel coronavirus are still up and circulating on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, even after the platforms said they had banned the video for spreading misinformation about the virus.
The video, which started circulating on July 27 afternoon, featured members of a group called “America’s Frontline Doctors” holding a press conference in front of the Supreme Court. One of the speakers, Dr. Stella Immanuel, falsely claimed that “you don't need masks” to prevent the spread of coronavirus and that studies casting doubt on the use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 are “fake science.” Immanuel, who has a history of anti-LGBTQ bigtory, has previously claimed that some medical issues are caused by sex with demons and witches in dreams and that alien DNA is used in medical treatments. The group is headed by Simone Gold -- a doctor supporting President Donald Trump who has been involved with a plan by Republican operatives to defend Trump’s coronavirus response in media appearances.
The video was first promoted by Tea Party Patriots and Breitbart (a “trusted” source in Facebook News) on multiple platforms. It subsequently went viral, receiving at least 20 million views on Facebook, and was also shared by Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. In response, Facebook and Twitter said they removed the video, with a Facebook spokesperson saying the reason was it shared “false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” and a Twitter spokesperson saying, “We're taking action in line with our Covid misinfo policy.” (YouTube also ruled that the video violated its rules.)
But a review by Media Matters found multiple copies of the video were still up on Facebook and Twitter, where they continue to rack up thousands of views after the platforms had made those announcements.
On Twitter, posts of the video that were still up since Twitter’s announcement that received hundreds of thousands of views include those from Michael Coudrey, a known conspiracy theorist; Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson (who has since seemingly removed his tweet); Austen Fletcher, a former contributor to far-right outlet Rebel Media who is listed as a “social media coordinator” for America’s Frontline Doctors; Prager University (known as PragerU); and comedian Terrence Williams.
In particular, our review found one of the most widely viewed shares of the video on Twitter was from JustInformed Talk, a major account that supports the QAnon conspiracy theory; before Twitter took it down on the morning of July 28, the account’s version of the video, which it said was “EXPOSING the truth about the COVID hoax,” had nearly 1 million views. The account continues to operate even though Twitter announced a crackdown on QAnon accounts on the platform last week. (Angela Stanton-King, a Georgia congressional candidate who has pushed QAnon, also tweeted a version of the video.)
In total, multiple versions of the video have received at least 5.2 million views on Twitter, with nearly a fifth of those known views coming from a video uploaded by the QAnon account JustInformed Talk.
Additionally, the video continued to circulate on Instagram, a social media site owned by Facebook. The accounts that have shared it and received tens of thousands of views include a QAnon account and those of conservative commentator Anthony Brian Logan, Nigerian singer Bankullir, American singer Tommy Vext, Stanton-King, and Williams. One version, from an account called “standup911,” has nearly 300,000 views, while another, from “seekthetruth,” has more than 550,000 views. In total, different versions of the video have received at least 2.2 million views on Instagram.
One version of the video on Instagram from PragerU has more than 700,000 views; Facebook had taken down PragerU’s post of the video on its platform but had not removed it on Instagram.
Besides Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, copies of the videos have also started to circulate on TikTok and have already received thousands of views combined, even though that platform has an explicit anti-misinformation policy, including specifically for coronavirus misinformation.
The virality of the misinformation-filled Frontline Doctors video comes months after Plandemic, a misinformation-filled coronavirus conspiracy theory video, also went viral on social media and received millions of views. And like with the Frontline Doctors video, the platforms also banned Plandemic and then struggled to enforce their policy against its dangerous coronavirus misinformation.