The virality of the video underscores the difficulty in moderating misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, when treatments and public health responses have become increasingly political.
By Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins
A dozen doctors delivered speeches in front of the U.S. Capitol on Monday to a small crowd, claiming without evidence that the coronavirus could be cured and that widely accepted efforts to slow its spread were unnecessary and dangerous.
It was the latest video to go viral from apparent experts, quietly backed by dark money political organizations, evangelizing treatments for or opinions about the coronavirus that most doctors, public health officials and epidemiologists have roundly decried as dangerous misinformation.
Donald Trump Jr. was left unable to tweet for 12 hours on Tuesday morning after Twitter took punitive action on his account for tweeting the video. “This is a must watch!!! So different from the narrative everyone is running with!” Trump Jr. tweeted at 8:13 p.m. on Tuesday. Twitter’s press account tweeted that Trump Jr.’s tweet broke the social media company’s policy of “sharing misinformation on COVID-19.”
“We’ve removed this video for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to NBC News. Stone also noted that Facebook is directing users who have interacted with content that has been removed to a World Health Organization website debunking COVID-19-related misinformation.
YouTube and Twitter followed Facebook, removing the video as it racked up thousands of views.
President Donald Trump also retweeted a clip of the video late Tuesday night. The tweet was later deleted, and no action was taken to his account.
The popularity of the video underscores the difficulty in moderating misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, when treatments and public health responses have become increasingly political, aided in part by right-wing Facebook groups and Super PACs secretly driving the conversation on social media.
Dressed in white coats with “America’s Frontline Doctors” stitched on the chest, the stars of the Facebook video claimed that business and school closings, social distancing and even masks were not needed, because hydroxychloroquine, a drug commonly used to treat malaria, could both prevent and cure the coronavirus. In fact, the FDA has warned against using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, citing serious health effects and the conclusions from randomized clinical trials that have shown little benefit from the treatment.
“We don’t need masks. There is a cure!” said Dr. Stella Immanuel, a licensed pediatrician from Houston. In one of the event’s most fiery speeches, Immanuel, who claims to have effectively treated 350 COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine out of her medical clinic, but declined to provide data, referred to doctors who declined to treat patients with hydroxychloroquine as “good Nazis” and “fake doctors,” and called published research “fake science.”
The U.S. has 4.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, and more than 149,000 Americans have died.
That Monday’s so-called news conference had more speakers than attendees was of little matter. Livestreamed by the far-right website Breitbart News, the video spread quickly, initially through conservative, anti-vaccination and government conspiracy groups. Within hours, it had reached over 20 million Facebook users.
The event was hosted and funded by the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing political nonprofit group led by Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s co-founder, who spoke at the news conference.
The group, which collects funds through two nonprofit groups and a political action committee, has raised over $24 million since 2014 to support Republican causes and candidates.