Controversial virus doco hidden
A new video claiming to track down the origin of the coronavirus has raised red flags for Facebook's fact checkers, who have branded it misinformation and limited its spread on the world's biggest social media site.
The video premiered on Google-owned YouTube on Tuesday last week, and has been viewed more than two million times since.
YouTube is often home to bizarre "documentaries" pushing conspiracy theories, and the recent coronavirus pandemic is ripe for content for some of those accounts.
A recent theory, as popular as it is wrong, has blamed the advent of 5G mobile networks for spreading coronavirus.
The chances of electromagnetic radiation produced by the spectrum used to transmit mobile phone signals (no more harmful than the microwave in your kitchen or your Wi-Fi router and approved by government bodies the world over) giving you a viral infection, or lowering your immunity to a level that would make you more susceptible to a virus contracted elsewhere, is slim to impossible.
In recent years the spread of misinformation on sites like YouTube and Facebook has prompted social media companies to get serious (or at least appear to) about policing misinformation.
YouTube is yet to get as far as taking the video down, but includes a prominent link under it advising viewers to "get the latest information from the Department of Health about COVID-19", linking to the government's website in line with the company's policies aimed at combating misinformation about the disease by promoting information from governments and health bodies ahead of other content.
Twitter has banned political advertising but is directing users to the same places for their info.
Facebook is allowing them to advertise free of charge, but its usual misinformation filters also remain in place, and appear to have come down hard on the dubious documentary, as noted by commenters on the video and on social media.
Facebook's third-party fact-checkers, news outlets who review information posted on the social media platform (the company worth more than half a trillion US dollars doesn't employ any itself), have rated the information false.
This means it doesn't appear in as many people's news feeds as it might have before, and if it does a warning label is placed over it.
Those who try to share the video also get a warning and it's understood those who already had received a notification telling them there was "additional reporting" on the content.
The documentary in question, unlike many YouTube productions, does at least come from a known news outlet, albeit the vocally anti-China The Epoch Times.
"I started looking into the origin of the now widely known coronavirus in early February, and its timing with the Hong Kong protests, the Taiwan elections and the US-China trade deal," Epoch Times investigative reporter Joshua Philipp said when introducing the documentary.
He said his research, including videos and messages from "Chinese citizens leaking through the censorship suggested the situation was much worse than what the regime was reporting".
The documentary goes on to cast doubt over the Chinese Communist Party's official story that coronavirus originated at a seafood market in Wuhan.
The video notes the issue of a notice on December 30, 2019 alerting: "There has been continuous occurrence of pneumonia cases of unknown cause at Huanan Seafood Market."
Philipp labels a thorough clean of the seafood market two days later as a "rushed" attempt to "destroy the crime scene", backed by a Hong Kong man described as an "expert" (Philipp doesn't say in what) who "echoed (his) concern".
Canadian science communicator Tim Blais, who is also popular on YouTube, has shared his thoughts on the doco, and they aren't favourable.
"My parents watched that hour-long Epoch Times 'documentary' on the origin of the coronavirus, which means then I had to watch it," Mr Blais said in a tweet analysing the sources used in the documentary, which claims to be the first to trace the coronavirus origin.
My parents watched that hour-long Epoch Times/NTD “documentary” on the origin of the coronavirus, which means then I had to watch it. Here are my annotations, feel free to use them. If you disagree don’t expect to debate me, I have no desire to spend any more time on this. pic.twitter.com/xBdUqXJ1Ql— 🎵Master Tim Blais👨🏻🔬 (@acapellascience) April 16, 2020
Mr Blais is of the opinion the "Epoch Times 'got to the story first' by deciding to only interview their longtime friends", many who have "interesting unmentioned facts" that don't appear beside their official titles.
He said the first expert to actually appear in the documentary to "echo their concerns" on camera, Dr Sean Lin, is executive director of the Global Alliance Against Communist Propaganda and Disinformation and "probably a longtime friend of Epoch".
Friendship is subjective but Dr Lin was formerly a talk-show host on Current Affairs In China, which aired on New Tang Dynasty TV for four years until 2008.
The New Tang Dynasty is owned by the same group as The Epoch Times, and the documentary appears on its YouTube channel.
The video also jumps on the theory that a bat was the source of the transmission, repeatedly noting no bats were found at the market.
That theory had already evolved to say that a pangolin that had been bitten and infected by a bat was the bridge to humans after being sold at the market.
Judy Mikovits is the next of Philipp's expert sources to weigh in.
She's described as a molecular biologist with a PhD, and told Philipp: "The idea of the spread so fast through a population just the way it was spread through the seafood market is highly unlikely and improbable."
Dr Mikovits is most notable for a later retracted study that claimed chronic fatigue syndrome is contagious and capable of being spread between humans.
The study's theory is itself highly unlikely after it was found to rely on contaminated samples, leading Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello to accuse Dr Mikovits of "just inciting fear".
It also created a lot of work for the co-authors of the paper, who then had to go to great lengths to discredit the study they had previously worked on.
Dr Mikovits is also notable for an internet myth that began circulating in 2018 that she had been "thrown in prison for research that led to the discovery that deadly retroviruses have been transmitted to 25 million Americans through human vaccines".
As internet fact-checker Snopes details, in reality Mikovits was arrested and charged with theft relating to notebooks removed from the chronic fatigue research institute she had recently been terminated from, following an investigation into her alleged manipulation of data.
The notebooks were eventually returned and the charges dismissed.
The story appears to have come from Dr Mikovits' own book, where she also claims the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr Tony Fauci, now a leading voice in the US's fight against coronavirus, threatened to have her "immediately arrested" if she stepped on National Institutes of Health property in an email to her colleague Dr Frank Ruscetti.
Asked by Snopes, Dr Fauci emphatically denied that.
"I have no idea what she is talking about. I can categorically state that I have never sent such an email to Dr Ruscetti. I had my IT people here at NIH search all my emails and no such email exists. Having said that, I would never make such a statement in an email that anyone 'would be immediately arrested' if they stepped foot on NIH property," he told the fact checker.
Mr Blais went further down his list casting doubt over the testimony of an "Asian affairs expert" who he said has been falsely predicting the collapse of China and its Communist Party for years "which have now come and gone".
General Robert Spalding, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute (a think tank on US-China relations and not the Australian-based Hudson Institute of Medical Research) raised Mr Blais' ire for his use of the Twitter hashtags #CCPVirus and #BeijingBiden.
Mr Blais goes on to fact check a few of the claims from the documentary, noting some of them are in fact true, they've just been taken out of context or sensationalised.
The "big reveal" that a Chinese lab mutated proteins to see if they were susceptible to infection by SARS didn't shock Mr Blais.
"All these coronavirus S proteins (bind) in their respective hosts. Of course they knew. So did everyone else."
The video describes this reveal as a "key to open the door to cross-species transmission".
"But cross-species transmission had already happened a few times," Mr Blais said. "It didn't need us. We've seen it naturally from bats to pigs, camels, civets, humans."
He also said General Spalding was too hasty to jump to the conclusion that Chinese scientists investigating whether coronavirus could spread to humans were doing it for bio-weaponry or proprietary vaccine reasons, but he did say he "wouldn't be surprised" if he found out China did have bioweapons.
"I'm not an expert. I believe the CCP is ambitious and censorious and will go to great lengths to gain power in the world … If a lab leak did occur I wouldn't be surprised if they covered it up as described (in the video), but I also think they'd act this way regardless of virus origin, and again, virus appears natural in origin."
Mr Blais gave his own theory on what really happened with the coronavirus pandemic using a quote from the documentary.
"I like this quote: 'The propaganda push that has been escalating for the past several weeks aims to deflect blame.' If I stopped the quote there it could apply equally well to the US," he said.
"Everyone mishandled this and now no one wants it to be their fault."
He closed his analysis saying the documentary "asks good questions" but "gives bad answers".