Coronavirus conspiracy theories don't go viral by accident
If you've gone on the Internet in the past week you've probably heard about plan DEMOC. It's viral video full of misinformation about the corona virus it features a discredited scientist who accuses people like Dr Anthony Pao Chief of the NIH and Bill Gates of using the kkob in nineteen outbreak to seize political power youtube. Facebook and twitter have been trying to chase the video off the Internet but experts. Who FOLLOW DISINFORMATION? Say It's not an accident that it got so big in the first place. It's an old playbook that's even more effective in a time of fear and uncertainty Rene dressed as the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory she studies Discourse Online in the most recent viral misleading video. That went up on facebook. You know there was a strong marketing component to it because one of the people involved had a book to sell. What you see is the same text will be used. It'll be kind of a particular core message produced almost the way that you would see from a team where the message goes out alongside the link and there's a real attempt to get it all out of right around the same time in hopes that you can kind of trick one of the algorithms that amplifies popular content on platforms into thinking that it seeing something. That's organic and I just you know. simultaneous outpouring organic interest. In person or topic. What role do other influencers play in? Getting this into the mainstream like is part of the campaign to have a list of sort of ideal. Influencers that you would love to get to re tweet your content. Yes absolutely I if you get it to. A sufficient number of blue check accounts have a million two million followers audience members. You've really ensured that you're reaching an existing mass audience. People think that those accounts are more authoritative. A trusted influence with a large audience. Really does a lot to both reach. People also create an environment in which the information is coming from. Someone that you trust. How can journalists avoid amplifying these claims like what is the right response to a coordinated misinformation strategy? And how do you even identify quickly enough? With regard to this particular video that went viral with the discredited scientists That was actually the third or fourth video that had been posted to youtube that did get significant traction and so those of us who watch be anti vaccine in health misinformation communities really this was like a train wreck and very very very slow motion. You know people had seen indications that this marketing effort was really trying to turn her into an influence or the problem was nobody wanted to write the story including including researchers. Because you don't WanNa give it oxygen if it's just gonNA stay confined to the communities. That are the natural sort of affinity places for it and then you see the debunking pieces begin to go up because it takes time for journalists to write those articles. They usually don't go up for six hours. Maybe and the challenges at that point the viral information has had a chance to release with people for a couple of days and the correction is not going to go as far as did. This is where I do think that platforms bear a little bit more responsibility in terms of when you begin to see a video or post or a repetitive content about a person began to gain traction in what looks like an authentic or coordinated way. That's where there's an opportunity to kind of temporarily throttle while you have the fact checker. Go look and see what kind of information this is and how it should be dealt with got it. Are you saying that that platforms may have the technology or just is on to be able to get to it more quickly you can begin to see when velocity of mentions is what it's called sometimes beginning to do well of Coca Cola is all of a sudden mentioned five hundred times in a minute? It'll flag for their brand monitoring people who will go and look and see what's going on so these tools for social listening and understanding that dynamic they do exist got it. Let's say the content gets taken down? In which case the conspiracy theorist becomes digital martyr like is one of the goals actually to be taken down so the then you can claim that you were censored. Well what we saw in the prior take downs this video that achieved Mass Keel was actually the third video in which they declare exactly what you've said that someone somewhere is trying to keep people from knowing the truth that's in some cases the better response rather than doing the takedown just ensuring that the accurate information is attached as quickly as possible. What are the opportunities in this time? Exactly because you know obviously there have been a lot of conversations about misinformation about manipulating platforms platforms have tried to take a handoff hands off approach. And they're now essentially saying you know. The virus is a clear and present public health danger. We can act more aggressively because the benefits are indisputable from a health perspective. Does that give us a an opportunity for research or lasting change or data or really understanding misinformation better? While some of the work that we're doing at Stanford actually looks at The initial application of those policies so the current a virus misinformation policy in extension of policies. That were put in place in two thousand nineteen related to the measles outbreaks. That were repeatedly happening When the Brooklyn Measles outbreak struck the platforms did begin to take steps to reduce the amount of reach that anti vaccine groups were getting and they did that. Some very basic ways. They stopped promoting them in the recommendation. Engine they stop accepting money to run. Ads on their behalf. The challenge the interesting thing that we've seen come out of this is that the policies were designed to amplify the CDC in the World Health Organization and their information but during the current a virus. There was the additional challenge of institutions. Trying to figure out what was going on at the same time as everybody else and so there wasn't always great information to be amplifying because with something like hydroxy floor Clinton whether it works. A scientific authority isn't gonNA come out with a strong firm judgment all Matt Prior to the research being done and so. There's this gap where people really want information but the science isn't there yet and so what fills the void is? Whatever any random person you know with a sufficiently large audience produces about hydroxy chloroquine. And so there's there's just not a whole lot of authoritative information for the platforms to be amplifying. Says it's been an interesting time with just understanding. How how you get information to the public. When there's no information Rene Studies online discourse at the Stanford Internet Observatory and now for some related links in news. You can hopefully use if you don't find yourself to enraged by the level of willful conspiracy believing from your friends and family on facebook. The Atlantic has a piece from last week on what to say to people who shared links to things like the plan. Democ video or other debunked. Disinformation it does say that. You will have the most luck with people who are curious or uncertain wondering if thing could possibly be true and it says you should try to empathize with the fear and uncertainty and quote. Don't lecture someone. Don't get exasperated. Don't insult them and don't try to refute specific falsehoods.