The said video became conservative media and fringe activists’ newest ammunition for their fight to end the measures put up by the government to slow the spread of the virus.
Artin Massihi and Dan Erickson of Bakersfield, California, were the doctors in the said video. They have downplayed the coronavirus risks and emphasized that the government measures to stay at home are not needed.
Facebook has not taken down the videos
On the other hand, Facebook did not remove the viral video of the said doctors, while a lot of similar videos remain accessible on YouTube, some of them are cut into clips. These videos amassed hundreds of thousands and even millions of views. One video that was posted on Facebook also had over 9 million views.
New from me: YouTube, Facebook split on removal of doctors' viral coronavirus videos https://t.co/LPDv8pKWLu
— Brandy Zadrozny (@BrandyZadrozny) April 29, 2020
There is a difficulty in moderating misinformation
The different moves done by Facebook and YouTube is a clear interpretation of the difficulty in moderating high-stakes misinformation the moment it becomes viral. Such is especially true when a post that goes viral comes from experts and produced by a trusted source. Facebook, YouTube, and other giant tech platforms were quick in taking aggressive stances against the proliferating misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic even in its early days. However, the said platforms still struggled to contain the different forms of false claims that include everything, such as conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and racist claims about the Asians.
The efforts to moderate misinformation became even harder now that there is a growing politicization of the pandemic. Some of this politicization include supporters of President Trump seizing misleading claims as well as outright fake claims regarding the coronavirus-brought state lockdowns. Some Democrats were also expressing their concerns over the pandemic.
YouTube and Facebook Split Decisions on Doctors Video Claims
According to Ivy Choi, the spokesperson of YouTube, they have quickly flagged videos that go against the platform’s Community Guidelines. These include videos that explicitly dispute the efficacy of the social distancing guidelines recommended by the local health authority because such videos may encourage other people to act against the said guidance. Still, Choi added that educational content, documentaries, as well as scientific and artistic content, are allowed.
The video in question, which was removed by YouTube, is a one hour conference that was live-streamed by the local media, including NBC and ABC affiliates in Bakersfield. Erickson and Massihi were dressed in medical scrubs as owners of urgent care centers in the said area presented data from a total of 5,213 COVID-19 tests, with half of them done in Kern County. The experts claimed that the data shows that COVID-19 was widely spread in the community. However, only a few deaths were brought by it. They also claimed that the data supports the idea that the state needs to rethink its enacted stay at the home policy to slow the spread of the virus.
Besides, Erickson dismissed the idea that the general public needs to wear protective gear such as surgical masks. The number of deaths caused by the coronavirus is not accurate and cited by other doctors from California and Wisconsin. They ignored the names, saying that these doctors told him that they were urged to list the coronavirus as a cause of death even if it was completely unrelated.
Erickson The Facebook Viral Doctor
According to Erickson, he believes that they are being pressured to add the coronavirus, so its numbers will increase, and it will look worse.
Moreover, some health officials, doctors, and epidemiologists quickly pointed out several flaws in the claims made by the doctors in the video.
The American Academy of Emergency Medicine, along with the American College of Emergency Physicians released a joint statement against Erickson and Massihi’s opinions in the video. According to them, the two doctors were reckless and untested musings. They also added that the two were not speaking for medical societies and are inconsistent with COVID-19’s current science and epidemiology. The joint statement also suggested that Erickson and Massihi’s ownership of urgent care centers impacted. It looks like they were releasing biased data that did not undergo peer review and that this data were released to advance the personal financial interests of the two without considering the health of the general public.
A professor at the University of Washington and author of Calling Bulls—: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World Carl Bergstrom analyzed the video’s claims.
YouTube, Facebook split on removal of doctors' viral coronavirus videos. https://t.co/b4u5TOTFhn
— NBC News Tech (@NBCNewsTech) April 29, 2020
Video Claims Via Facebook on Health
In a Twitter thread, Bergstrom criticized how Erickson and Massihi used patients from their urgent care clinic so they could suggest the political risk of death brought by COVID-19 was no more than that from the flu. He also called their analysis highly biased and absurd.
Some highlighted the potential political motives of the two, citing a selfie video of Erickson where he was demonstrating his support for President Trump. The said selfie video was posted on a Facebook page for Trump Citizens of California, a new political organization.
In the now-deleted of privatized selfie video, Erickson can be seen waving a flag from the roadside while saying that the time for silence is over.
Furthermore, the doctors in question declined to respond to these allegations. Massihi published a video on his personal Facebook account where he was thanking his supporters and insisted that their comments were meant solely to share their personal data. He also added that they do not intend to drive national and state policy, which seems in contrast to the video’s claim that the stay at the home policy is not necessary. A few days after, Massihi made his personal Facebook account private.
Meanwhile, in an interview with KTTV-TV of Los Angeles, Erickson dismissed the comments that he and Massihi’s claims were reckless and dangerous. In the interview, Erickson said that people should think about the applications as a balancing act. One has to balance the collateral damage with the medical illness and say that one has a worse effect o the society than the other.