On Monday, a self-described group of “America’s Frontline Doctors” aimed to dispel what they claimed to be “a massive disinformation campaign” about the Wuhan-originated coronavirus and the fear of it, which has paralyzed so much of American life. The doctor group, organized by Tea Party Patriots, reportedly includes members of the pseudoscientific anti-vaccination movement. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube deleted livestream videos of the event posted by Breitbart News after they went viral, claiming the videos contained “lies” and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
While it is important for American society to reconsider many of the paralyzing fears around the coronavirus, the doctors in the video reportedly made bold exaggerated claims that are not supported by the best science on the pandemic. Among other things, they claimed that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is “a cure for COVID” and that “you don’t need a mask” to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“This virus has a cure, it’s called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax,” one of the women in the video claimed. “You don’t need masks, there is a cure.”
Hydroxychloroquine has been effective in some circumstances, and masks are not always necessary, but these broad claims created the false impression that hydroxychloroquine is a sure-fire “cure” for the coronavirus, so reliable that prevention measures are not necessary.
By late Monday night, the video had racked up 20 million views on Facebook, according to NBC News’s Brandy Zadrozny.
“We’ve removed this video for sharing false information about cures and treatments for Covid-19,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC. Facebook has pledged to combat misinformation regarding the pandemic.
President Donald Trump shared several versions of the video with his 84 million Twitter followers before Twitter took down the videos. A Twitter spokesperson said tweets containing the video violate its COVID-19 misinformation policy.
YouTube also removed the video. A spokesperson explained that the video met the bar for removal because it claimed a guaranteed cure for COVID-19.
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“From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had clear policies against Covid-19 misinformation and are committed to continue providing timely and helpful information at this critical time,” the spokesperson told CNBC.
Dr. Simone Gold, the group’s leader, had advocated the use of hydroxychloroquine. She has criticized lockdown orders and other measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, claiming that there is “no scientific basis that the average American should be concerned” about the virus.
“Americans are riveted and captured by fear at the moment,” she says in the video. “We are not held down by the virus as much as we’re held down by the spider web of fear. That spider web is all around us and it’s constricting us, and it’s draining the lifeblood of the American people, American society and American economy. This does not make sense.”
Gold does make some important points. As PJ Media’s Stacey Lennox pointed out, relentlessly reporting the large numbers of confirmed cases and confirmed deaths is encouraging irrational panic. Many fear they will contract coronavirus by touching something after an infected person touched it, yet CDC data shows that surface transmission is extremely unlikely. Most transmission comes from close contact with an infected person over a period of time — either sheltering at home with someone or living in close quarters like in nursing homes or jails.
COVID-19 also has an extremely low death rate, and that rate is skewed toward the elderly. These and other facts suggest that society-wide lockdowns may not be necessary. Social distancing measures, including masks in indoor spaces and where people may share the same air, are likely still essential to slow the spread of the virus.
Hydroxychloroquine is not a sure-fire cure for COVID-19, and these doctors should not have made that claim. All the same, some of the social media companies have moved to delete more than just the video.
Twitter suspended Sidney Powell, retired Gen. Michael Flynn’s lawyer, for her tweet supporting hydroxychloroquine over the counter. President Trump retweeted the message last night. According to Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, “Twitter is making a big push to silence discussion of a COVID-19 cure.”
Twitter is making a big push to silence discussion of a COVID-19 cure. pic.twitter.com/QC7kuROeOJ
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) July 28, 2020
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., was suspended on Twitter for sharing the video.
Social media companies are in a tough spot on these issues. While hydroxychloroquine has proven effective against COVID-19 in many cases, blanket claims about it being a surefire “cure” are overstated. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube want to avoid becoming vectors for the spread of misinformation.
However, America does need a serious conversation about the societal tradeoffs of this pandemic. Medical experts are not unified in supporting continued lockdowns, and the coronavirus’s low death rate and hospitalization rate suggest that the paralyzing fears are overblown. Meanwhile, lockdowns are causing serious psychological and economic harm, devastation that must be weighed in the balance on this issue.
This video went viral because Americans are searching for new answers to the pandemic, solutions that do not require shutting down society for months on end. That thirst for a new solution will likely increase, and silencing dissent may make the misinformation worse.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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