In a little more than three days, a viral video pushing misleading claims about coronavirus vaccines and masks has earned more than 90 million Facebook engagements from uploads to streaming platforms, receiving millions of views. The video is spreading despite YouTube and Facebook’s rules against coronavirus misinformation, and its reach is significantly higher than the numbers for earlier coronavirus conspiracy theory videos Plandemic and Planet Lockdown -- both of which should have been instructive cases for the platforms in how to handle such viral misinformation.
Previously, Facebook has claimed it would remove content from its platform that pushes false claims about vaccines, and YouTube prohibits content “about COVID-19 that poses a serious risk of egregious harm” or “contradicts local health authorities’ or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical information about COVID-19.” Given the speed at which this latest video has racked up engagements, it appears that neither platform has learned any lessons from allowing conspiracy theory videos like Plandemic and Planet Lockdown to go viral, nor are these policies being consistently enforced to fight medical misinformation.
The new video features a man named Dan Stock speaking in front of an Indiana city’s school board. Calling himself a “functional family medicine physician,” Stock falsely suggested that coronavirus vaccines were not effective, saying, “Why is a vaccine that is supposedly so effective having a breakout in the middle of the summer when respiratory viral syndromes don’t do that?” He also falsely claimed, “People who have recovered from COVID-19 infection actually get no benefit from vaccination at all,” and inaccurately alleged that masks do not work, saying that “coronavirus and all other respiratory viruses ... are spread by aerosol particles, which are small enough to go through every mask.” And rather than vaccines, Stock suggested people use the drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19 -- which the FDA has specifically advised against.
According to the tracking tool BuzzSumo, uploads of the video from streaming platforms have earned more than 90 million total Facebook engagements. Most of those come from YouTube -- in particular, from three versions of the video that have since been removed for violating the platform’s community guidelines. One version uploaded on August 7 earned at least 30.5 million Facebook engagements, a second version uploaded on August 8 earned at least 31.2 million Facebook engagements, and another version from August 8 earned at least 30.3 million Facebook engagements. (Another tracking tool, CrowdTangle, showed similar numbers, though it is unclear how CrowdTangle handles the engagement numbers for removed YouTube links.) All those versions combined earned at least hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube before they were removed.
Although those three videos were removed (after already racking up high engagement numbers), other YouTube uploads have circulated on the platform and made their way to Facebook. According to a review by Media Matters, these other uploads have earned nearly 5 million combined views and, according to CrowdTangle, more than 2.2 million Facebook engagements combined. Multiple uploads of the video also carried ads, meaning YouTube has made money off of these harmful COVID misinformation claims. (YouTube has repeatedly allowed channels to monetize videos that violate the platform’s own rules, along with allowing ads to run on videos pushing misinformation in general.)
These YouTube uploads were widely shared on Facebook, including by a Wisconsin sheriff and a Maine state representative, and they have spread quickly throughout private Facebook groups. But YouTube was not the only streaming platform where the video has earned a significant number of views.
On Rumble, a platform known for hosting coronavirus vaccine misinformation, multiple uploads -- one of which came from right-wing host Sebastian Gorka’s show -- have earned hundreds of thousands of combined views. One of the Rumble uploads has earned well over 200,000 Facebook engagements alone, according to CrowdTangle. Additionally, Gab and its CEO, Andrew Torba -- a known coronavirus misinformer -- emailed users an upload of the video from its streaming platform, Gab TV, urging people to watch and share the video; that upload has more than 180,000 views and more than 6,000 Facebook engagements.
That a new coronavirus misinformation video was not just able to go viral but apparently surpass the wide spread of previous COVID conspiracy theory videos suggests that Facebook and YouTube continue to struggle with containing misinformation about vaccines and COVID-19. And as the United States faces a new wave in the pandemic, the spread of this video also demonstrates the social media pipeline -- usually from YouTube to Facebook, in particular -- that has allowed dangerous coronavirus misinformation to go viral time and again.