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How Coronavirus Scammers Hide On Facebook And YouTube

March 19, 2020

By Robert Evans

On March 16th, 2020, virtually every major social media company released a joint statement on their efforts to curb the spread of disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. 

As of the writing of this article, the top comment on Facebook’s Twitter post of this statement is, itself, a piece of disinformation, furthering the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon cooked up by the Chinese government. 

It’s ironic that this poster declares the joint statement against disinformation to be a precursor to mass “deplatforming”. As this Bellingcat investigation shows, coronavirus disinformation is spreading rapidly on Facebook and YouTube. While steps have been taken to stop the spread of this nonsense, the purveyors of viral falsehoods have developed their own tactics to skirt censors. 

For an example of how this can look, let’s hop over to the Facebook page for the Cowichan Green Community, a non-profit organization in British Colombia. While googling through some phrases commonly used in coronavirus disinformation, I came upon this post on their page by one ‘Adam Siddhartha’:

He’s hawking a familiar line of disinfo to the 3,893 followers of this page: the idea that colloidal silver can stop COVID-19. This is not an uncommon find on Facebook. This page, with 950 followers, is just titled “Coronavirus Cure?” It appears to be plugging a book with the same name by a medical grifter named Nick McCarthy. This book was uploaded (in English) on both the Indian and UK versions of Amazon, possibly in an attempt to evade censorship. Luckily, Amazon has removed both listings.

But Adam Siddhartha is still on Facebook, and disinformation he posted weeks ago, back on February 29th, is still up. Facebook has, thankfully, marked the embedded video as “False Information” and blocked it. However, this does not work as well as you might think.

The title of the video in question is still very clear, and it’s easy enough to find it on YouTube itself, where the video has not yet been removed:

Adam’s posts get relatively little engagement. But this video, which claims that 5G cell towers are responsible for the symptoms associated with Coronavirus, has received 957,102 views since it was uploaded on February 22nd. Directly above this video, littered with lies about the Coronavirus, is a link to the CDC YouTube has embedded in all COVID-19 content. 

Luckily for us Dana Ashlie, the creator of this video, goes to the trouble of explaining exactly what she has done to evade censorship for this long. She claims that YouTube has a special list of terms that cause them to flag videos for further review and censorship. In order to get around this ban she has developed a list of abbreviations, saying “CV” for “coronavirus”, “CH” for China, “the WHO” for the World Health Organization, and so on. 

In the comments section of the video Ashlie went into further detail about how she helps her channel, which is filled with similar bogus information, to spread. She claims that monetized channels are less likely to get deleted, and so she continues to monetize her channel even though she knows YouTube will declare all her videos “not suitable for advertisers”. This comment has more than 1,100 likes. Dana Ashlie’s channel has more than 172,000 subscribers. 

It does not take very long at all to find different species of coronavirus disinformation propagating on Facebook. Much of the content focuses around various fake ways to “treat” or “prevent” the virus’s spread. Colloidal silver is a commonly touted cure. Ayurvedic treatments are also marketed for the virus, along with Miracle Mineral Solution, which is essentially just industrial bleach. Several sites urge people to take Vitamin C to prevent coronavirus spread, and of course pages claiming to sell indigenous medicine also market their own treatments (in this case, yet more silver). All of these examples were found by Bellingcat in less than a half hour. 

The ‘Granddaughters Waters’ Facebook page, which sells silver water for your COVID-19 needs, has 1,127 followers. And a stroll down to their ‘Related Pages’ section found us an even greater disinformation kingpin:

Mark Elkin runs a small network of Facebook pages, HEAL and Hidden Knowledge. Both trade in the standard sort of alternative health and pseudoscientific content you might expect from those names. Hidden Knowledge has nearly 7,000 followers, and is currently pumping out bogus coronavirus news with the best of them. Rather than fake cures, Mark focuses on spreading the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was engineered by the Chinese government for population control and to increase “vaccine implementation”. 

This post has not been shared widely, and one commenter notes that Facebook, “…really does not want this shared. It warned me 3 times that this is false information!” But while this information does seem to have been flagged, it has not been removed, and its creator Mark Elkin maintains a personal Facebook page with 18,272 followers. He bills himself as an “author, solar system influencer, earth change analyst”. He notes that his science education comes from Colbayne High School. 

Alex Jones, and Infowars, are other major purveyors of the “COVID-19 as Chinese bioweapon” conspiracy theory. While Jones has technically been removed from YouTube, his fans regularly repost his content on YouTube under a variety of names.  This one example, Trace The Truth 2.0, has uploaded numerous pieces of Infowars COVID-19 disinformation to its 743 followers:

Natural News, a fake health news empire run by Infowars contributor Mike Adams, can also be found on YouTube despite being officially banned from the platform. This video ‘How Globalist’s Justify Releasing Coronavirus Bioweapon’, was found uploaded by two different accounts and getting a combined 530 views. These numbers are not high, but they represent just a few examples of a sizable trend. This channel specializes entirely in uploading Natural News content; it has more than 17,000 views. It appears to have evaded a ban so far by typing out “N A T U R A L N E W S” rather than “Natural News”. 

It is clear that attempts are being made by Facebook and YouTube to halt the spread of disinformation. But this research makes it equally clear that lies about the COVID-19 pandemic are still spreading virally on both services. 

 

Robert Evans

Robert Evans has worked as a conflict journalist in Iraq and Ukraine and reported extensively on far-right extremist groups in the United States. He's particularly interested in the ways terrorist groups recruit, radicalize and communicate through the Internet. He has a podcast on the HowStuffWorks network (https://www.behindthebastards.com) and you can contact him via revanswriter@gmail.com or Twitter: https://twitter.com/IwriteOK

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33 Comments

  1. Charles McCain

    a belief that a malign outside force or group is trying to undermine the US goes back to the beginning of the nation.

    The credulous, uninformed, poorly educated American, which is most of the population, prefers to wallow in conspiracy theories than pay heed to well-educated experts. Disdain for intellectuals has long been a belief of the majority of Americans as well.

    Reply
  2. Kyoko Yokoma

    I love you guys. I’m a documentary filmmaker and saw the documentary Billingcat. Today, I almost believed Dana Ashlie’s coronavirus text scam video, which I was about to share on facebook, until I checked and found your findings. Thanks a million.

    Reply
    • uwotm8

      What made you disbelieve it here? As far as I can tell all this article says is – this person is a scammer. They spread fake bullshit. But that’s just an assertion, no attempt refute any of her claims.

      Reply
  3. tian lee

    Read carefully patent:
    US 2017/0216427A1
    Pub. Date: Aug. 3, 2017
    Take care !
    Enemy is inside USA !
    Bye . . .

    Reply
  4. Wow

    Dana does thorough research never claims anything but use critical thinking something that Americans have been programmed not to do. This is a sham it’s the flu multiple drs. Are horrified it and all the hospitals are empty inside and out , wake up b4 it’s too late.

    Reply
  5. Jane

    COVID-19 and the Wuhan virus
    So many stories!
    a) there is a virus
    b) the virus originated in bats in China
    c) the virus infected people who got ill, some died
    d) the virus is contagious
    e) the only thing to stop the contagion is a vaccine

    America is awash in the allopathic medical story which embraces Pasteur’s germ theory and the concept of infectious disease agents. America does not question the story from China, which embraced Western allopathic medicine during the Chinese Communist Revolution. Chinese doctors want to be accepted by the West. So, who is applying traditional medical science to the details of what the Chinese actually did to genotype a virus? And who is actually keeping an open mind and looking for alternative explanations?

    American doctors, especially Dr. Fauci, embrace the allopathic model (to be fair, if they did not, they never would have graduated from medical school) and do not follow up on evidence that does not fit. The details are deemed too much for the American public, so all we get is a succession of statistics that are, in themselves, of questionable accuracy.

    And worse, anything that questions the allopathic medicine is scorned as a conspiracy theory, the ultimate indefensible judgment.

    Reply
  6. peter_t

    Quite sad that people are spreading this misinformation during hard times when people are vulnerable. You should be very alert when looking into social media accounts and what’s posted there. I use Tor private browser and Surfshark VPN, but you can’t be protected by these programs from misinformation. That’s on your critical thinking.

    Reply
  7. Verita Vincero

    Conspiracy theories are possible because “all the experts agree” statements all seem to lead away from the bible and Satan is capable of planning evil and influencing humans. I found the evidence after a decade of research then found Revelation 12:9.

    Reply
  8. Bruce

    Thanks for the info. I do distrust anyone who assumes MMS is industrial bleach. Chlorine is not the same as Chlorite which is the resulting mixture with vitamin c activator. A very true and inspiring true story from Jim Humble. I assume you know nothing about the trial tests in Haiti, Africa, Columbia etc. Many people are healed and main stream media wants no part of this solution. This is an inexpensive solution to many diseases. I suggest you do some due diligence and listen to the results obtained by Jim Humbles team of followers. Cheers

    Reply
  9. Suzanne Montague

    Shouldn’t they still be able to say it and let people decide? It feels like the modem form of book burning. Whether you agree or not, shouldn’t they have a right to say it? People say a lot of things in their channels that aren’t true. I mean even the experts have admitted they didn’t know everything about the virus from the start. Seems weird that they are being shut down.

    Reply
  10. Bob Franklin

    I work as a pizza delivery driver in the outer Seattle area (Puyallup/Southhill/Fife/Edgewood), & 4.5 months in I’ve yet to see one shred of evidence pointing to a pandemic – not one taped off building or infected person, despite Seattle being a MAJOR city handling a mind boggling amount of Chinese imports. With a 14 day incubation period for Covid & Seattle having a major airport hub, the entire state should’ve been laid waste in the first month, but we only just recently cracked the four-digit mark (1,116 as of Friday, 5/29. The Puyallup Good Sam hospital is nothing but crickets chirping. I KNOW THIS. I DELIVER THERE. Same deal for the local hot clinics. NOBODY. It’s a crock. I’m enjoying the best overall CP health I’ve had in 25 years. Not so much as one rogue cough, Even though my daughter who lives with me works at a high volume drugstore literally 3 minutes from the docks via the W. Seattle bridge.

    Reply

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