The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the media industry in a lot of ways, but one of the biggest challenges journalists are facing is fighting the spread of disinformation, especially on social media.
In early May of 2020, a 26-minutes video trailer named Plandemic was shared on Facebook. The video, featuring Judy Mikovits, a scientist who claims to have worked with Antoni Fauci, exposes false information, conspiracy theories, and misquotes physicians and researchers. This video was a trailer designed to preview a full-length movie called Indoctornation.
Jane Lytvynenko, a reporter for BuzzFeed News in Canada, was one of the first journalists to tackle the subject and address the disinformation in an article called “The ‘Plandemic’ Video Has Exploded Online — And It Is Filled With Falsehoods,” before the topic was covered by mainstream media such as NPR, the New York Times, and BBC.
Lytvynenko recalled that she learned about the video soon after it was posted, but she decided to wait and see how popular it would get before publish about it.
“With disinformation, there’s always a danger that you’re going to amplify something before it becomes popular. So we watched to see if it would pick up online most of Friday and then published our article as soon as we realized that it was gonna be a problem,” says Lytvynenko.
She explained that as a journalist, you do not want to be in a position where you are exposing your audience to false information that they have not seen before. But when the disinformation is already spreading, there are two important steps to take.
“First, we explain which parts of the false information are not true,” says Lytvynenko.
In this case, she called doctors and experts in order to fact-check the claims and expose the truth.
“The second part is we investigate how this piece of false information spread online in the first place, so that way we’re able to explain which part of social media platforms are responsible for this article going viral, and who on social media platforms is responsible for the false info going viral — in Plandemic’s case it was all Facebook groups,” explains Lytvynenko.
As the pandemic accelerates, more and more disinformation and conspiracy theories are being spread, especially on platforms like Facebook and YouTube: this process is called distributed amplification. It relies on social media users individually sharing partisan ideas (propaganda, theories, falsehoods) in order to reach several platforms with repetitive content in an attempt to gain visibility.
However, according to Lytvynenko, the pandemic did not so much accentuate the creation and spread of disinformation, but it rather limited it to one worldwide subject.
“Disinformation has always been a huge threat — especially online disinformation — it’s been a huge threat for about a decade or so, but what the coronavirus did is it created one single topic of conversation for the entire world. So a lot of the times, just like with the Plandemic video, we suddenly see the same hoax across the world, across languages, across continents, across countries,” says Lytvynenko.
Even though the video was ultimately removed by Facebook and Youtube, some translations of the video still remain in circulation today.