Coronavirus conspiracy theory posts keep spawning, and social media companies can’t take them down fast enough


(CNN) - There is new concern over the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus as a slickly produced conspiracy-theory video has racked up millions of views this week. It’s full of false claims and outright lies, and people are falling for it.

Social media companies like Facebook and YouTube say they are fighting COVID-19 misinformation. The sites are struggling to keep up with a flood of conspiracy theories.

“If someone’s spreading something that puts people at imminent risk of physical harm, then we take that down,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

This week, people might have seen friends and family sharing a video called Plandemic. By the time Facebook and YouTube took it down, it had millions of views.

“I’ve not seen a video of this type gain this kind of viral traction so quickly,” said Alan Duke, editor in chief of Lead Stories.

Facebook said it pulled the video because it claimed wearing masks could make people sick. YouTube said it removed the video because it included “medically unsubstantiated diagnostic advice for COVID-19.” Even after the companies said Thursday they would remove the video, copies of it still circulated.

Online fact-checkers like Duke, whose company works with Facebook, says COVID-19 misinformation is spreading almost as fast as the virus.

He said conspiracy theories proliferate because "people want to believe these things and it fits their beliefs, the bubble that they’re in. And so then they want to share it with their friends, like they’ve got some inside knowledge.”

“So some people push misinformation to make money, so it’s to sell a health supplement," said Claire Wardle, director and disinformation expert of First Draft. "Some people do this to push a specific political agenda. Some people do this because they just want to see if they can get away with it, but a lot of misinformation is around people’s existing world view. So if you already don’t trust vaccines, you want other people to take on your beliefs because it makes you feel better.”

Online COVID-19 conspiracy theories have targeted Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health and philanthropist Bill Gates “just this whole idea that there’s this deep state that has brought this COVID-19 crisis to the world in order that they may promote their own interests,” Duke said.

As social media struggles to keep up with the misinformation, it’s more important than ever to think before you share.

“If it makes you angry, if it makes you scared, if it makes you smug, if it makes you want to go out and buy something immediately, that emotional impulse means there’s probably something about that information that makes it very difficult for you to be critical,” Wardle said.

As of Friday morning, coronavirus had infected roughly 1.2 million people in the U.S., killing roughly 76,000.

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