Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and accountability journalism, from Poynters International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institutes Accountability Project. Sign up here
The major social media platforms arent always in lockstep on what content they moderate. But this week, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were all on the same page in blocking a video of a group called Americas Frontline Doctors touting the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, contrary to scientific evidence. One of the doctors said you dont need masks to halt the spread of the virus.
By now, the story of the video is well known the retweets by President Donald Trump and his son, the fact-checks that followed, and the bizarre beliefs of one of the doctors involved, Stella Immanuel.
What happened in the days after that, though, is key in understanding the methods and tactics of people who push unproven cures and other falsehoods and then have their content blocked: The blocking itself and the claims of censorship that follow become part of the attempt to get attention.
The day after the video of their Washington press conference was removed, the white-coated doctors were out again talking about the same messages, but with an added angle: They were being silenced.
Were coming after you Big Tech, were coming after you, said Simone Gold, one of the doctors leading the effort. We wont be silenced,
The censorship message then took off among the doctors supporters on Twitter and other platforms.
This is a common tactic among groups that champion unconventional messages. The censorship claim becomes central to their efforts to control the narrative, said Aimee Rinehart, U.S. deputy director of the nonprofit organization First Draft, which fights disinformation.
Cries that Big Tech is censoring us! become part of the attention grab, she said, even though the platforms are clear that they will only remove content that spreads false information about the coronavirus or messages that suppress the vote.
The doctors events were also held the same week that the CEOs of Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple (Twitter was not among them) were testifying before a House subcommittee, which is probing the power of the tech companies. So it was convenient timing for the doctors, since there was a good chance that the platforms decision to take down the video would come up in the hearing, and it did.
In short, the doctors were successful in inserting their cause into the hearing, in effect, using the platforms content moderation decision to extend what might otherwise have been written off as a one-news-cycle fringe event.
Susan Benkelman, API
This week, Brazillian fact-checking organizations Agncia Lupa and Aos Fatos debunked a claim that citrus fruit peels contain the same basic ingredients as chloroquine and ivermectin.
Chloroquine has been shown to be ineffective at treating COVID-19 according to studies by both the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ivermectin, a medicine used to treat heartworm in animals and roundworm in humans, has shown some promise in early studies to treat COVID-19, but has not been properly vetted and approved to treat the disease.
Both fact-checkers talked to experts who explained both chloroquine and ivermectin are created through combining other chemicals in laboratory settings. They do not exist in citrus fruit peels. Both also noted misinformation about using citrus to treat COVID-19 is not new, and put this latest hoax in that context.
What we liked: This is a unique fact-check that builds on the work fact-checkers have been doing throughout the infodemic. It reiterates the current scientific understanding about the efficacy of chloroquine, and recognizes the trope of citrus fruits being used to treat COVID-19. This falsehood is a combination of those two narratives, and Aos Fatos and Agncia Lupa unpack that for their readers.
Harrison Mantas, IFCN
Thats it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to email@example.com. And if this newsletter was forwarded to you, or if youre reading it on the web, you can subscribe here. Thanks for reading.
Susan and Harrison
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- Censored Planet: University of Michigan research finds worldwide increase in internet censorship - WSWS - November 28th, 2020
- In India, a Clash of Digital Innovation and Internet Censorship - CoinDesk - Coindesk - November 28th, 2020
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