Business Insider: Facebook and YouTube took 7 days to remove an hour-long viral video filled with COVID-19 conspiracies

Article by Martin Coulter for Business Insider - published 19 May 2020

A video filled with misleading claims about COVID-19 was watched almost a million times on Facebook and YouTube over the last week, prompting both firms to remove the clip.

The hour-long video was watched more than 500,000 times across both platforms over the last week, after being uploaded by Dave Cullen, a right-wing vlogger and activist based in Ireland, best known for his "Computing Forever" YouTube channel, in which he regularly rails against political correctness, online censorship and "wokeness". 

The video was shared on Cullen's Facebook page, "Computing Forever", his YouTube channel, and shared again by Tiger Reborn, an Irish political activism group. These versions of the video accrued close to a million views between them. They have since been removed by Facebook and YouTube. 

In the clip, Cullen and Prof Dolores Cahill, chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party, a fringe political outfit with ties to the alt right, make a series of inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims about COVID-19.

Ireland started easing COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, following a strict two-week period of lockdown. The country has suffered around 25,000 confirmed cases and close to 1,500 deaths linked to the virus.

While Cahill, a professor at University College Dublin, appears to have a credible background in virology and disease transmission, which she details extensively in the clip's opening 10 minutes – while failing to mention her own political affiliations or aspirations. Cahill only mentions her role as chair of the IFP in the closing five minutes of the clip. 

Insisting social distancing in Ireland is unnecessary, Cahill tells viewers the country should exit lockdown completely "within the next week or 10 days", adding that she would "be happy to take responsibility for those actions and be held to account".

Cahill goes on to claim those that have recovered from COVID-19 are immune for life, that a combination of vitamins C, D, and zinc will stop most people from developing symptoms, and that hydroxychloroquine will effectively cure victims of the virus.

In the latter half of the video, Cahill's pronouncements become increasingly political, with calls for "an inquiry into the media and the politicians" in Ireland, suggesting the country's national broadcaster RTE should have its licence fee revoked.

Almost all of the claims made by Cahill and Cullen in the video have either been debunked or remain subject to intense scientific research, such as the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

Despite being touted by US President Donald Trump as a miracle drug, trials have shown it to have little to no impact in treating the virus.

Two observational studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that from thousands of hospitalized coronavirus patients, those who got the drug did not do any better or worse than those who didn't. 

The JAMA study also found that those who received hydroxychloroquine combined with the antibiotic azithromycin had a higher rate of cardiac arrest. 

Additionally, while some initial studies saw promising results from the drug, experts warned that those studies were "limited by their low quality, often enrolling tiny groups of patients or lacking a control group to compare the results against."

There has been limited evidence that vitamin supplements, used to boost an individual's immune system, could help fight off infection, the results are far from conclusive. 

At the same time, there is no substantial proof that a recovered COVID-19 patient will be "immune for life". In a statement released in April, the World Health Organization said there was "currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection".

Although it is likely that recovered patients will have developed some degree of immunity, there is no consensus on how long it would be likely to last.

Facebook launched its "COVID-19 Information Hub" earlier this year, compiling guidance from reliable sources – such as the CDC and WHO – and placing it at the top of every user's news feed. 

Meanwhile, YouTube claims to have been manually reviewing and removing thousands of videos that spread dangerous or misleading coronavirus information. The company has not made clear if Cullen's video meets that threshold.

Apparently aware that Big Tech social media companies will struggle to keep his video offline, Cullen told viewers to "download and reupload this video everywhere," adding: "Please do." 

At the time of writing, at least one other version of the video remained live on YouTube, uploaded by Kerry Baldwin, whose channel focuses "on the philosophical thought of liberty". 

An unknown number of Facebook users have posted links to the video on Bitchute, a YouTube alternative known for accommodating right-wing vloggers. 

Infotagion, an independent fact-checking service cofounded by Damian Collins, former head of the UK's Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said there was "no scientific evidence" to support any of Cahill's claims. 

John Quinlan, cofounder of Infotagion, said: "When we fact-checked this video we found there was no scientific evidence to support any of her claims.

"It's concerning to see how many times this video was shared on social networks. People should always double check the information they are hearing or seeing if it's not from an official source."

He added: "Getting the facts right on COVID-19 is literally a matter of life or death"

A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider: "We have removed this video for violating our stringent harmful misinformation policies.

"We are taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and have removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, both proactively and following user reports."

A YouTube spokesperson said: "We're committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using WHO data and information from local health authorities, to help combat misinformation."

Business Insider approached Cullen and Cahill for comment. 

Copyright 2019 Damian Collins. All rights reserved

Promoted by Russell Tillson for and on behalf of Damian Collins, both of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association both at 4 West Cliff Gardens, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1SP


linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram