S1E9: Health Disinformation: Plandemic and America's Frontline Doctors

Podcast published date: 

Sep 15, 2020

SPEAKERS - Shawn Walker, Michael Simeone

Michael Simeone: This is Misinfo Weekly, a somewhat weekly program about misinformation in our time. Misinfo Weekly is made by the Unit for Data Science and Analytics at Arizona State University Library.

Today we're going to be talking about health disinformation. Now in the past, we've talked about health misinformation that is, second, third, fourth and fifth hand, bad information about COVID-19 that people can circulate around the internet. But today we want to talk about two films that have a very specific purpose and were engineered to deceive the audience. The first one is called Plandemic and the second one is called America's Frontline Doctors. The first one is much more of a documentary style is called Plandemic. Shawn, can you talk to us a little bit about Plandemic.


Shawn Walker: Sure, so Plandemic actually came out back in May. But it's a sort of rebranding and resequencing of some information that's been circulating online for a fairly long time. Couple years. So the star of Plandemic is Judy Mikovits.


Michael Simeone:  Dr. Judy Mikovits. 


Shawn Walker: Yes. Dr. Judy Mikovits and she basically presents information that is pretty head scratching. If you ask any doctors on the frontlines today around, you know why we're more vulnerable about the virus she's really heavily involved in the anti vaxxer communities and saying that, you know, masks activate the virus, we're more likely to be to catch the virus because of some of the ways medical experiments are designed and that this is all a big conspiracy by Big Pharma. And she mentioned some of the big players right now like Dr. Fauci and other folks, and it's in this very documentary style. So she published a paper in Science, and that paper was then retracted because it wasn't possible to reproduce her research. And in that research, it was they found that there was contamination in the lab. And then after that, there were some charges against her for some things that happened in the lab. And then she was kind of left the scientific community and then went into this anti vaxxer community and then now she's picked up this starring role and taking all the vaxxer misinform anti vaxxer misinformation she's been spreading. And then it sort of got recut into this really professional looking very smooth, documentary style Plandemic.


Michael Simeone: Okay, yeah. So, it sounds like I mean, there are a lot of layers to the Plandemic film in the sense that there's a, there's a ton of information that gets presented to the audience about where the disease came from, about treatments, etc, etc. The take home message, what would you say the take home message of Plandemic is?


Shawn Walker: That the virus is a conspiracy and also that the large players that we see on TV every day, Bill Gates, Dr. Fauci, Big Pharma and vaccines that this is all a fraud.


Michael Simeone: The kind of second title for the film is "A Plague of Corruption". And it seems like this film is much more concerned about how inadequate or shot through with vice all of the institutions that we trust really are.


Shawn Walker: And I think it's something that's important to consider is the opening of the film. The opening of the film actually doesn't start with scientific evidence the opening of this short film stars, Dr. Mikovitz and you know, how she's been oppressed and how she's been hunted. And they use stock footage from, you know, a stock footage website and saying, you know, she was arrested, they search her home, and then they cut to the stock footage of basically a raid on a home Using military personnel, and that has no relationship to what actually happened. But it It opens with, you know, she's this outsider that found the truth. And then using all these different legal means they've tried to suppress this information. And then they go into this, you know, pseudo scientific information later. But first they start to create this character around her to add legitimacy in this very specific way.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, she's - I like the way you put that, that she's really the protagonist, which is of this documentary. The documentary - the documentary style of this film is that you actually get to see the documentary filmmaker, a documentary filmmaker participates in the interviews. You're not having anybody look directly at a camera. They're looking off at an angle. It's that a documentary style that I think many people would recognize, there's a pretty high production value. It looks pretty polished. I mean, you mentioned the stock footage. Have the raid on her home. But it's integrated so well that if you weren't looking for the footage watermark, you really would think that was that was her home being rated. So there's a lot of touches to this film in terms of the cinematography and the production that make it seem like a documentary that we've seen many times before, right? It walks, talks and acts like an old friend, if you're used to watching documentary films.


Shawn Walker: And it's reaching into anti vaxxer and conspiracy communities through creating this archetype of the scorned researcher that has the truth, but the current, you know, administration wants to suppress that. 


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and I like that. So I mean, we can start inventorying the ways that this that the kind of strategies that this film employs to deceive the audience, one we've covered is the kind of production aspect of it. The second is the narrative of style, right? That is a familiar, a familiar narrative trope to have the outcast researcher, or to have the person with the truth shut out. Because those in power are the ones who want to lie. And so the more disempowered you are, the more truthful you become. 


Shawn Walker: And then we hook into existing controversies in communities that are against vaccinations, so in these anti vaxxer communities, and Mikovitz has been active in those communities in the past, so this is really not new information that she's bringing up. She's actually regurgitating information that she's been presenting for a while after she really left the scientific community, because of the retraction and because of the theft of documents and equipment from her lab.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And she gets you to that kind of straight up in this interview, or in one of the interviews in the film, do you are you an anti? Are you an anti vaxxer? or something to the effect and she says, of course not. You know, I just I want people to be well and I want people to use all that they can to, to fight disease, right, some kind of watered down response that is kind of like a non denial, denial. And so the some of the things that are said sound scientifically plausible, right? So this could be a third way that this film lies is using words like virus expressions, healing sequences, right. It's some kind of reference to like oblique references to molecular genetics, right. So these sounds sciency but they're nonsense, right. So the idea that you are re breathing your own Coronavirus expressions right is is some is a is a phrase that she uses to talk about masks wearing and why you shouldn't do it or keeping people on lockdown keeps them away from the healing sequences in the sand, salt water. And so again, that's something that sounds kind of silly. IMC but really has no root in actual scientific knowledge. 


Shawn Walker: Well, she uses scientific language to then validate a lot of feelings, those that have those that might feel uncomfortable with vaccination or those that might feel uncomfortable or follow, you know, some of our political leaders like the President's lead and saying, well, this isn't as bad as, as, you know, as the media or some medical professionals are saying, so she uses just enough of the scientific language to sound legitimate. And that's really hard to parse for members of the public. So I, you know, who's done the expert that you go to discuss? And also her language is just vague enough at many points when they asked, you know, was this SARS-CoV-2 virus created in the laboratory, and she says, I wouldn't use the word created, but you can't say it's naturally occurring. So she's, there's this sort of vagueness in her response, so it's really a non response. So then you can kind of Attach, it leaves enough questions for you to hook into this narrative that she's trying to sell.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, so there's a rhetorical position of using vagueness and vagaries in key ways, or when pressed where you might be caught in a direct lie, you can be vague as a way to escape that, right. So it's a deception technique. But it's definitely one of the ways that this film is able to lie. I would say that another way that this film is able to create the fabrication that it does is to create this naturalistic fallacy that all things from nature are good and restorative, and that modern biomedicine is actually quite confused and is so far away from nature that it's lost its ability to actually help people and I think you see this in her rhetoric about say, being close to the ocean or the soil is going to boost your immune system. Being on lockdown is going to turn you into a bubble person that has no immune system and will therefore get sicker, that being outside and being around other people and just living a good healthy life is gonna save you more than anything else. So all of these appeals to some kind of imagined natural state are going to boost your immunity or boost your survivability, and that the mechanistic and kind of data driven monstrosity of contemporary biomedicine. That's the thing we should really be afraid of.


Shawn Walker: When I think reading a quote might be helpful. When she says, "Why would you close the beach? You've got sequences in the soil in the sand. You've got healing microbes in the ocean in the saltwater. That's insanity."


Michael Simeone: Yeah, that's perfect.


Shawn Walker: And, you know, there's no medical term of sequences in the soil. And that's untrue that there are healing microbes in the ocean. None of this is scientific fact. But it sounds just good enough and also at this time, this is during the early days of the lockdown Before we had sort of come out of this lockdown, so she's saying don't close the beach, don't close these spaces, don't wear masks. And then she's using some scientific pseudoscience language that makes it sound somewhat legitimate. So if you're already predisposed to not want to close the beach, and you think it's you know, it's problematic, like, I should be able to go outside or you think you shouldn't have to wear a mask for a whole host of reasons. Then you're like, Look, here's some scientific language. Yeah, keep going.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and that's that, that information became very sticky in the sense that it disinformed people on purpose. And then that became misinformation in the sense that somebody would share it with somebody else. The bit about salt water, you know, there's actually kind of recorded conversations with people saying, Oh, yeah, well, you just need to be near the salt water and you'll be fine. Right? There's a comedy comedy duo that, you know, we're not going to boost anybody in particular right now. There's a comedy duo That did a sketch where they just asked people if they wanted masks on a beach in California. And more than one person said, Actually, I've got you know, as long as you enter the salt water, you're fine. And it's very interesting to be able to see that video in July. And know where that lie probably started. Back in early May.


Shawn Walker: I've seen the video you're discussing. But the other part is these things are so sticky. We're still having conversations around mask wearing, where folks are saying, well, it activates the virus. I breathe in my own virus, so therefore I'm more susceptible to COVID as a result, you know, I you can't lock down these spaces. So we're still having these conversations. Whenever city for example, in Phoenix whenever city leaders required masks, or like for example, the Phoenix International Airport and Sky Harbor required masks. There were hundreds of comments that Just mimicked all of these points in this video.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. Louie Gohmert who is the state representative from Texas and the US Congress recently? What is today? It's July 29, 30th? 


Shawn Walker: July 31. 


Michael Simeone: We're in July 31. A couple days ago Louie Gohmert was tested positive for COVID-19. One of the things he said was that he got sick. He can't help but think that most recently within the last 10 days, he started wearing a mask, and that him wearing the mask has something to do with it. And he even called out specifically that he thought he got virus into the mask, and then having that mask on his face exposed him to more virus.


Shawn Walker: I feel like just sort of a moment of silence for the lack of scientific education in this country.


Michael Simeone: Yes, well and that that that Move of saying I can't help but think it's just one of those things that I'm not making a commitment to evidence based argument. I am not trying to say that I'm going to be logical. I'm not trying to say that I have good information. It's just saying I'm using possible explanations and substituting them for actual explanations, I can't help but think that this virus or that these masks or the wearing a mask for 10 days made me sick. It's similar ways of avoiding the truth or rationalizing bad information or a bad explanation, as we see in these videos. And even though I don't think that he inherited the direct line of rhetoric from these videos, it does show that the conduct the kind of conjectures about disease are more powerful for people sometimes then the evidence about disease.


Shawn Walker: Well, There's so much uncertainty in the science at this moment in time because the virus is so new. And I think a lot of the public forgets, you know, some of their training to understand that, you know, science isn't about, we have a factual answer. And then we're done. Science is, here's the latest information that we have, when we gather more information that might change. And this is the best available information at the time. So in many ways, there's a level of uncertainty in science that a lot of folks are not comfortable with. And they think that because our information has changed over time, as we've learned more than that's used as an excuse to say, well see you've been wrong the entire time.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And it's not like movies or media do any kind of help, right, where people can synthesize anecdotes and compounds in 48 hours, people's expectations about science, being able to just bang out answers and certainty in relatively short order. That's kind of the A fantasy diet that we're fed in general the idea that science deals with real uncertainty and takes an awful lot of time. Yeah, I hear you it's it's not something that a lot of people are used to confronting, you know, how many how many hits does the Plandemic film get I say hits but I mean like shares. Generally speaking, how we quantify interactions with Plandemic, is there a final count, I know that this is kind of confounding because it's not like Plandemic is hosted on a bunch of different servers. You know, it made its run through Facebook and got shared a ton on Facebook. And then it ended up being dissolved on a number of different platforms on a number of different websites. There's no way to really know what a final number for the number of times Plandemic was shared, watch, liked, downloaded, whatever. But do we have access to any of the figures I've heard 8 million tossed around before but can you put that in context a little bit?


Shawn Walker: I mean, the best guess is that we have are garnering millions and millions of views because Basically, once this video was posted, then the platform's eventually tagged it as misinformation and started to remove that content. And the interesting thing about that technique is that once you delete that content, then some folks like well, information needs to be free. What don't you want me to know? So it added this sort of Unsolved Mysteries type of intrigue to the, to the film, or to the short, it's not really a film, film would be much longer.


Michael Simeone: Well, remember, it's Plandemic part one, we're expected that Plandemic Part Two may come out at some point we just don't know. But it is labeled Plandemic. Part one. 


Shawn Walker: It's about 25 minutes long. So that's, that's not necessarily film length, maybe. But basically what happened is as it was removed by the platform, so there this is their strategy is to remove misinformation. So content, that's a space so problematic. Yeah, so Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, search engines removed links to this content. So You know, Google and DuckDuckGo, and Bing and etc, etc, remove some of this content. So it just people would continually re upload it to these sites, and then it would be viewed so many 10s of thousands of times that link wouldn't work, somebody would post another link, until finally it's found a home on some edges of the internet and those sites, so it's not possible to get a count, but we know we're in the 10s of millions of views. Easy. No questions.


Michael Simeone: Okay, so it's good to like put a number on that. Do you have any other kind of final comments or thoughts on Plandemic before we move on to the to the next "film" in quotes that we're going to talk about today?


Shawn Walker: So there is recently a twist on this this film in that earlier in July, actually really last week, Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation announced plans to televise an interview with Dr. Mikovitz. 


Michael Simeone: And Sinclair broadcasting for those who aren't familiar with the network of quote, unquote "local broadcasting" venues that Sinclair, can you talk a little bit about what the significance of Sinclair is being on board with something like this.


Shawn Walker:  So Sinclair owns a large number of local television stations. So you turn on look at your local news. So for example, our local Phoenix in Phoenix, our local Fox affiliate station is owned by Sinclair broadcasting. So they own a whole a number of these stations. And so this means that we would basically reach people and, and Judy Mikovitz would be interviewed on these local TV, you know, and broadcast on these local TV stations, basically, throughout the entire United States.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, so it's in some ways, having it appear on your local news makes that seem organic and truthful.


Shawn Walker:  And the show that she was going to be on they, there were pieces of the interview released beforehand. And you know, that it wasn't really a critical interview at all. It was just, you know, treating this as legitimate information. And there was such an uproar whenever that was announced that this was going to happen that this episode is section of the episode was actually removed and they decided not to air that episode. 


Michael Simeone: So, airing that particular segment with Dr. Judy Mikovits. just didn't happen. I can't find any station that actually did it. It seems like, as you mentioned, like a decision from the top where they just decided to pull the plug on it. But interesting that, you know, just as a quick aside, masquerading as local news, when you're really owned and coordinated by a much larger body is a is a deceitful and possibly disinforming technique.


Shawn Walker: Well and the host of this show, so the show is called "America This Week" and the host of the show, his name is Eric Bolling. He was scheduled to interview her and then after they pulled the segment, he said, Well, I really just didn't know anything about her. I have no idea, I just, you know, was following the directions of my producers. And I didn't know that she was peddling misinformation, which for a host of a kind of news style show to have very little understanding of the guests that he's interviewing says a lot about the quality of the show.


Michael Simeone: Yes, and possibly how difficult it can be sometimes to arbitrate between a truthful guest and a non truthful guest. And I don't mean that to cut anybody slack who, you know, didn't do a careful vetting process. But, you know, Dr. Judy Mikovits, to some people as a celebrity, as a celebrity scientist, and a very accomplished scientist. So people see people differently, but she is incredibly well known. And sometimes that passes for credibility.


Shawn Walker: I think it's important to put a little asterisk on that incredibly well known. She's only known within very small communities, especially the anti vaxxer community. She's more of a household Name today due to Plandemic and especially due to, you know, the issues around America This Week and not going she probably got more publicity by not going on the show than she would have if it would have aired because of the uproar. But within the scientific community, so in Plandemic, they described her as this very prestigious, famous researcher, which was not true. She was not prestigious. She was not famous. I mean, a Science article is a is an accomplishment. Yeah, a retraction. I mean, retractions happen, sometimes for fraud. This wasn't the case that it was actually for fraud. It was a case that there was contamination in the lab. So therefore, the result wasn't due to, you know, science. It was actually you know, there wasn't a significant result. It was actually due to contamination in the lab. So that's why the paper was removed. There wasn't anything nefarious. There were no accusations of anything nefarious. But she's not a famous, well known scientist, she left the scientific community after this Science paper, and that was sort of it and then now they're presenting her in this way this light that lends, more more weight to what she has to say then is actually accurate.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, this this, this Plandemic film definitely cleaned up her image in some, in some ways to some audiences. This is kind of like a grim version of when an actor or actress has a new film come out, and then they do the talk show circuit. It's almost like the kind of misinformation equivalent is your stuff goes really big on YouTube and Facebook, and then it gets blocked, you become more notable and then you show up on Sinclair broadcasting venues, talking about your misinformation. But 10s of millions of interactions is is not nothing. And this is certainly a signal boosts to you know what I think what made this you know, as we kind of round out our discussion On this particular film, as you mentioned, one thing that makes this additionally persuasive, is how it harmonized with a lot of the ways that people think already about medicine. And so the anti vaxxer crowd was dog whistled really hard in this video. And people who think, who just distrust institutions in the government were dog whistled, not even dog whistled right just bullhorn pretty aggressively in this video. It matched and met a need to have the audience in a way that lots of sophisticated communications do it understood the audience and understood the messages that would resonate.


Shawn Walker: So you  used to the phrase dog whistle. Can you maybe explain that briefly?


Michael Simeone: Yeah, dog whistle is the shorthand for dropping clues. Or alluding to certain truths or narratives. You don't actually come out and say them, but the people who are people who kind of believe something it will resonate with That belief. So, oftentimes when people hear, say the president of United States say that, you know, these, "these people are animals," for instance, end quote, then many people will say Actually, that's, you know, they say that's dressed up in the moralistic language of judging people who are in violent gangs. But using the term animal specifically, that word is used very frequently in the racist discussions of non white peoples. And so you're basically using a word or using an illusion, or using a narrative that appears innocuous or arbitrary, but it's actually part and parcel of another community's narrative or another set of assumptions how they narrate and see the world and it resonates with those things. That's dog whistling.


Shawn Walker: So in summary, Plandemic there in Plandemic there are a lot of brilliant strategic moves from the design of the documentary The use of the documentary style to lend legitimacy Creating the sort of archetype of the shunned researcher, where those in power are kind of suppressing disinformation, the dog whistling to or bull horning to folks that are in these various anti vaxxer communities and maybe sort of COVID deniers, you just kind of hook into these in so many ways and the use of vague language so that we can go back whenever scientists try to debunk this and say, Well, no, that's not what I said. I said that maybe I didn't say that's the truth.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And then that the last thing I would add to that is that naturalistic fallacy, which is that nature knows better than anybody else, that medicine is just this misguided nerd. That doesn't understand that nature is really where all the cures are. So from vaccines to coronavirus treatments of any stripe, what we really need to think about is how the how nature knows best that fallacy i think is another technique that that This film uses really effectively.


Shawn Walker: So what's the so we have this other video that's, in some ways a bit of a - kinda in the same vein, but also a bit of a contrast than the Plandemic video. 


Michael Simeone: Very different style. Right, very different style.


Shawn Walker: So the styling is different, but the goals are the same.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I mean, I, it's hard. To me, it's hard to conjecture about the goals exactly of Plandemic, other than to just so distrust in institutions. It's not as difficult to conjecture about the goals for America's Frontline Doctors, because it's paid for by Tea Party Patriots, which is a super PAC. It is very upfront ers or Tea Party Patriots is very upfront about wanting to reopen. They're -- what they want is reopen the economy, get kids back in school. That is their goal. I have no idea. If the makers of Plandemic are that specific about what they want. But the distrust that they want, if we know for sure, at the very least that sowing distrust in institutions, right, that's just reading that are that that video on its face. But America's Frontline Doctors, right, given the funders of it, there's I think there's a more specific agenda there.


Shawn Walker:But I think let's be clear. In the case of both of these videos, this was not unintentional misinformation. This isn't intentional disinformation. There was there no qualms of no question about that this wasn't you know, I didn't know this is I actually know what's right and what the truth is.


Michael Simeone: Yes. And I think that the, you know, for Plandemic, you know, the best I'm not sure if there were any specific decisions or actions that the that are being advocated for in Plandemic, right. We know that for the America's Frontline Doctors, they come out and say they say we need to open schools. We need to get back to work. We need to end the lockdown that those kinds of recommendations didn't come. They didn't come right out and say that with something like Plandemic, I think the the goals were a little bit more abstract. But to your point, yes, absolutely. There were goals. There were purposes there was intent.


Shawn Walker: So let's break down the Americans, frontline doctors. It's sort of a live stream feel to it. Can you describe a little bit of the video in the location first?


Michael Simeone: Yeah, America's frontline doctor summit, paid for by the Tea Party Patriots citizens fund is, is filmed on the steps of the US Supreme Court with a group of maybe eight to 10 people in white lab coats, and it looks like a press conference, although you never get to see the audience or how many people are actually there. But it looks like a press conference of physicians. There's the I think as representative from South Carolina and Congress, Ralph Norman is the guy who gives the kind of opening remarks and then he just turns it over to the physicians. And so it looks like a press conference of physicians. It doesn't seem like the kind of docu -- participatory documentary that Plandemic does. Instead, it looks like something that you might see on the news. And it's meant to emulate that in form. 


Shawn Walker: And, we can see some similar pieces. So there's some differences in similarities to Plandemic. But, you know, standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, doctors in a bunch of white coats standing behind, giving you information that lends a different type of legitimacy to the content. 


Michael Simeone: They're just calling you on the head right with different markers of legitimacy and power. They just, it's really they layer it on pretty thick. How many times have you seen a doctor at a press conference wearing a white lab coat?


Shawn Walker: Only sort of the in hospital press conferences. Every once in a while, You know, there is some amazing surgery or there's someone, you know, very famous in surgery, like they're separating conjoined twins. And that's the kind of press conference where, you know, you see surgeon and lab coats, but never, you know, they don't wear lab coats when they testify in front of Congress.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I, what gets me about this, and I guess we'll get into this here in a second. But they, they...create an opposition between them and laboratory knowledge, right. So the people who do the lab knowledge and who are the scientists who are very far away from patients, they just, you know, they don't know anything, but we're the actual doctors, but they're dressed up in white coats, which makes that makes them kind of ambiguous with people that spend a lot of time in a lab. I don't know it's confused in that regard. Even I recognize that white coats are, you know, they don't just belong in a lab. Either way. They bring their way white coats to this press conference, as you mentioned, to kind of wield as much power as possible in this press conference and what they say in this press conference is they lay out very simply that America needs to reopen, that we are trapped in what they call a spider web of fear. And that we really have nothing to worry about that thousands of doctors and this is they're here to tell the world that thousands of doctors have been silenced. But the truth is Coronavirus, there is a cure. And that cure is hydroxychloroquine and zinc and this is where the kind of notable figure kind of the definitely the most outspoken person on this on this stuff. I can't call it a press conference, whatever act this is the most outspoken doctor Dr. Stella Immanuel is the one that the President of the United States ended up kind of endorsing and re tweeting a clip or maybe the whole thing, but she was the one who to him represented that video in her perspective, also a huge proponent of hydroxychloroquine and zinc.


Shawn Walker: And these doctors claim to have treated hundreds and hundreds of patients. But if you look at some of the news inquiry that's happened afterwards. There's actually not a lot of evidence that they've treated hundreds and hundreds of COVID patients.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, they cite a lot of reps. And they say that from their first hand experience, no one has gotten heart disease no one has they haven't. Actually, Dr. Immanuel makes the point. Not a single person has died, that I have treated, who had COVID-19.


Shawn Walker: But I think it's really important, a very important sentence to continually repeat is that the quarrel of anecdote is not data. 


Michael Simeone: Yeah, yeah. 


Shawn Walker: And that's, you know, that's why medical studies and scientific Research is designed in a specific way. Because our experience, you know, we might be treating certain types of patients, we might have certain types of participants that all have same, the same similar features. And so therefore, you know, when we go outside of the little bubble that we're in, that still doesn't work anymore, it doesn't apply. There might be something special about the group, you know, they're all homogeneous are so similar in ways. Once we go out into the general population, that doesn't work. So they're also citing a lot of studies. So they cite studies, which has a lot of power. In many ways. It's kind of like, you know, every time you go to Wikipedia, we're trained to trust you know, there's a little in the corner, there's a little number in brackets that sends us to a citation. So if you cite something, if you say there's a study, that they cite studies, and then if you actually go back and read these studies. For example, the the study that She cites about the 62 year old man who went to the emergency room and was found to be you know ,COVID positive, the authors of that case actually highlight that physicians should bear in mind more atypical presentations of COVID-19. And not really speculate about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. So the the actual authors of the paper say, this is about atypical presentations of covid, not about the effectiveness of this medication. But instead, we kind of twist that and say, well, there's a scientific study, which in the sort of general news media has been a problem is that there's, you know, there's a study that came out, but we actually have to understand the findings of that study, but then also understand, has this study been peer reviewed? Has it gone through that process? Is this the has it's just been something somebody wrote a draft and then published it? So it hasn't been vetted? So it's really complicated. Use of you know, there's a study. So what I'm saying is legitimate, but if you go to the study, nope, you've just totally misused that study for your own purposes. And that's Not what the study says at all.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And it's, it's super tough because they talk about studies in two ways. One is, that there was a study and you should trust it, like you mentioned. The other one is they talk about doctors who care about data too much as being robots with scrambled microchips. And that what you really need to worry about is experience. They mentioned multiple times, that doctors who are making these proclamations about hydroxychloroquine being harmful or not really anything that's going to help as being too distant from patients and from the clinic, and that its clinicians who you should be listening to, because they're the ones who have the actual experience.


Shawn Walker: But there's a huge difference between so we've talked a little about this before, that expertise. So who is the expert in this matter, and especially around the Coronavirus, we require different expertise depending upon what we're discussing. If we're looking Looking at spread of a virus, then we have epidemiology if we're looking at the virus itself, you know, we have geneticists and microbiologists and virologists that are involved. So who actually is an expert is a important question. And so they're saying, Let's push all this aside, and doctors who are really not trained in conducting research, let's ignore the researchers is what she's saying trust the people who are on the front lines that might have seen, you know, 50 patients, 100 patients, if that, versus someone who's designed to, you know, they design work to really understand the science of what's happening in the general population. And conflating the two is really problematic.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I mean, I see this as a rebran-- So we see certain things in this film that are very similar to Plandemic, in that you're emulating a form that people trust. So that direct experience with a news conference of where we are almost parodying that, but we're here we're using that to be able To seem legitimate reasoning, these symbols of power to seem legitimate. That naturalistic fallacy comes back. This idea that the people who are close to the patients who one time they talk about until you've touched your patient's skin is something that gets mentioned as a way to get knowledge that there's this organic kind of from the earth way to practice medicine, and that science has it all wrong. There's a different kind of science here. And that science says hydroxychloroquine is great. They try to cast doubt on existing hydroxychloroquine trials trying to say that they use too much they use a toxic amount that these doctors actually poison you. Again, back to this idea of use a small amount of hydroxychloroquine and allow your body to do its thing. It sounds an awful lot like homeopathic work at some point. But they keep coming back to this idea that the more naturalistic you are the more interactive you are Are the more social and kind of back to basics your medicine, then the more reliable your knowledge. And so they don't want to tell us that there's a massive government conspiracy out there to try to make us all sick and create genocide, like, Plandemic is trying to tell us, but they are trying to say, Hey, we're doctors, we're here to help. And these scientists, boy, they're just so mixed up. They need to listen to us instead.


Shawn Walker: And both of these videos, use these different techniques to kind of say the same thing. This is not as big of a problem as the scientists and researchers are telling you, and other doctors are telling you, they're using this technique to say, well if we just do these things, it's all going to be fine and then this will be over.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and they, you know, they say multiple times. We do not have to be afraid of Coronavirus. There is a cure it is called hydroxychloroquine and zinc over and over and over again. And so their tone is like their approach is different rather than say, there's this massive conspiracy and all these bad actors, they're trying to say, actually, we're trapped by fear. These doctors that do a bunch of research and only care about data are really misguided. We are here to tell you the truth. We can just be unafraid, go back to school, resume our normal lives as long as we take hydroxychloroquine in a preventative way. We don't even need masks. And so their position is a little bit different rather than being the harbinger of doom and danger. They're trying to be these beacons of hope, who are really well meaning and down to earth and represent something that a lot of people can relate to about trusting their own experience.


Shawn Walker: Well, and also, we have to trust our physicians. I mean, we go to see physicians at many different points in our lives, some of them just regular checkups. But most often right now we go to position physicians at a very critical moment when we're sick, We're concerned about being sick, some people might be dying, and so we have to trust them. So that's what's confusing is, how can we not trust someone that we go to in a time of need, and using that sort of archetype? And it's interesting that if we contrast Plandemic with America's Frontline Doctors, we have sort of similar goals of if we just do these things. It's going to be okay. Coronavirus is not that big of a deal. But then we're appealing to two different communities. So Plandemic, more appeals to anti vaxxer conspiracy theory communities. So that kind of bins towards those communities, is America's Frontline Doctors is designed to appeal to a wider audience that wouldn't buy into or don't already feel comfortable with some of the conspiracy conspiracy theories, or are more comfortable with vaccinations.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I agree with that. 100%.


Shawn Walker: So combine these two together, this is a very brilliant strategy to reach to different communities, to then you know, Basically, there's not as much overlap between these two communities and like a Venn diagram. So we basically get to different audiences with the sort of same goals to say, this is not a big deal. Calm down, everything's going to be fine. We just need to take a little bit of medication here. And, and then we can reopen the economy, we can reopen schools, we don't have to worry about that narrative.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and it just so coincidentally, goes to war, both of them with like the smarty pants, right, that if you're doing research and you care about data and you care about reliability, then you actually we don't need to listen to you anymore. And so this, the tone of the second film that we're talking about is absolutely defiant, when it comes to how credible researchers are, as opposed to clinicians. And so it tries to draw this distinction, and it really does, in my opinion, does a very kind of effective attempt at trying to sow doubt. About people who who care about science who care about evidence that the evidence that they care about is anecdotal. And it it, it helps create those preconditions for misinformation that we've been talking about in previous in previous shows, which is that as soon as you can't trust traditional experts, then all kinds of things become permissible when it comes to circulating any kind of disinformation content. So let's think what's the now we know that this was retweeted by the President of the United States, we know that it was featured on some very right leaning news media outlets. Do we have a sense of what the interactions were for this video?


Shawn Walker: So we know that this video is received at least 20 million views,  according to some of the news, media and documentation.


Michael Simeone: So whereas the kind of trackable kind of interactions for one was 8 million Plus some unknown amount, but we know it's big. That kind of baseline for this one is around 20 million.


Shawn Walker: Yeah, about 20 million so far. And what we've seen is the platform's took a similar strategy, but I think even more aggressive than with Plandemic. So I think a big difference with America's Frontline Doctors and plant Dimmick is that President Trump retweeted this video. So that pushed this video into a very prominent position. And so the social media platforms, you know, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, even search engines, you know, Google with YouTube and you know, Microsoft with Bing, they basically have scoured the web-- 


Michael Simeone: You don't have to talk Bing. Do we have to talk about Bing? Is that?


Shawn Walker: I guess we lost our Microsoft sponsorship right there.


Michael Simeone: Does anyone use Bing? Do -


Shawn Walker: Yeah, a lot of people use Bing a lot of products. Use being and being integrated into Windows. 


Michael Simeone: Alright, I'll back off. 


Shawn Walker: Don't hate on Bing, Don't hate on Bing.


Michael Simeone: It's not hate. It's just skepticism.


Shawn Walker: Okay, so I would say to these platforms, I think you've put even more effort into removing this video and removing America's doc frontline doctors video and removing it faster because Trump brought it to their attention forced it to their attention. So they've added more actively removed this misinformation. And so it's very difficult to go back and look to see what how many views how has this been spread, but we do know, we're having fear. We're about somewhere around a million interactions in you know, since July 24. And most of those interactions with his content have been since the 26th. So the last seven days, there's been a lot of discussion of this of this video, because it's been taken down, especially in like the Breitbart and going back in Tea Party communities. They've just been pushing this has been suppressed. The truth is being suppressed by social media platforms. So we need to discuss this video. You can't watch it. But here's what the video told you and you should believe it, because these platforms are suppressing this content.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And I guess that kind of brings us to the final to the final bit, which is how do you how do you combat very sophisticated, very effective, crafted pieces of disinformation, especially in a time of kind of emergency when people don't exercise the same timeframe for evaluating stuff. The response of social media platforms was to take them down. And we've observed kind of what that did is it made them even more popular because they were taken down and lent them more credibility. Do you think despite all of those things, that it's still the best thing to do to unpick that content or to delete it?


Shawn Walker:  I do. I think that it lends legitimacy within certain communities. But I would argue that those communities were more likely to be predisposed to this content anyway.


Michael Simeone: So it's not going to change anybody's mind to have it deleted. It's only going to galvanize the people who already believed it in the first place. 


Shawn Walker: Yes, I, I would concur with that. I think I mean, the problem is we don't, this is difficult. I mean, misinformation and disinformation are not a new problem. You know, we've had, you know, misinformation, propaganda. You know, since we've been able to communicate as humans, incorrect information, and purposely incorrect information has been a problem and continues to be a problem. So we don't have good solutions. We have choices that can make it worse. So whenever we have political leaders that provide contradictory information, so if we're not speaking with one with one voice, so our health professionals, our political professionals, you know, our corporate leaders, when they're speaking with one voice, that kind of helps us inoculate when we're setting Speaking with many different voices, and we're saying contradictory information, we don't know what to believe. So then who's the expert? Who should we believe? So then that makes us even more vulnerable to this? Because then there's a vacuum of, you know, what's, what's the truth?


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And I, I feel like the following on that. The I'm definitely in agreement with, like Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan who, you know, when they're talking about recommendations for platforms and how they should address disinformation and misinformation, that there should be some kind of standard labeling, or standard or at least recognizable set of criteria for flagging misinformation and then possibly categorizing misinformation. And even though that sounds really ambitious, some cooperation between social media players forums seems like it would help this an awful lot. 


Shawn Walker: But I, I think that's that's also really difficult not to give platforms a pass, they're really in a sort of untenable situation where there's sort of damned if they do, they're damned if they don't. And that's not saying they shouldn't do anything. And so politically, this is very difficult, especially within our current context, because there's not agreement about this when the President is tweeting out misinformation that's highly problematic for others to then classify that as misinformation. And then to remove that content and label that content. Because that's a very high profile person to label.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, but it's tough, because if I've got something on Twitter, and it gets taken down from Twitter, but all I have to do is move it to Facebook, and I'm good, which, you know, we see that and, you know, that allows people to exploit the differences and the platforms to still pump out the misinformation Now, I'm not trying to say that the platform's cooperating is an easy thing or a straightforward thing. But I think structurally, it's just something that's there that allows that mis and disinformation to flourish. I, I tend to think that a retraction is going to be better than just a straight up delete. And so letting people know that something was there with a note about misinformation i think is always more helpful than just deleting it or on posting it. And I know these things unfold differently for each of the different things that we're talking about on different platforms. But just generally speaking, I feel like retractions are much better retractions and corrections are better than just straight up deletes.


Shawn Walker: But you also then have to believe those sources of the retractions and saying we're retracting this based on information from these experts from these publications. So if you don't believe the mainstream media, if you don't believe scientists, you know, our prominent scientists. So if you don't believe the CDC or the NIH Then that that labeling, or retraction based upon that foundation from those organizations or those individuals, then that all that does is sort of like add more fuel to your fire.


Michael Simeone: Sure, but back to your point of those people are never going to be convinced in the first place. But sometimes it can be very helpful to have it on the record. And to have it available, because it's still something that happened to have it disappear completely. feels like it's not, it's not entirely truthful about what happened. And so, for instance, if we want to evaluate these videos that we're talking about right now, if it takes so much work to access them, because there's no actual way to view them, because they're banned. That does feel like it's getting in the way of making sure it's on the record and disputed documented part of a discussion I understand that has pitfalls, but just getting rid of them wholesale and trying to scrub them from the internet seems problematic even for the folks that are, especially for the folks who don't believe it.


Shawn Walker: Well, we have examples of this in other spaces. So for example, organizations like the Internet Archive, which operates something called the Wayback Machine, which archives portions of the worldwide web. So you can go to the go to archives.org, put in a URL, and you can see what a website look like in, you know, 1988. So you can look at ASU's website from now, all the way back into the early 90s, which is kind of embarrassing. Whenever you look at, you know what the old web used to look like. You're like, really, but...


Michael Simeone: Those were those were in some ways, those were better days. But, but I take your point that maybe if I'm going to the platforms, if I'm expecting the platforms to do the job of say archivists and other, other other organizations that are interested in the public record, maybe I'm going to the wrong place. Fortunately, those that are kind of invested in the public record, or in the human record just aren't terribly well resourced. Yeah?


Shawn Walker: They aren't resourced. And also, there's questions of what to do. So in the case of Internet Archive, white supremacist group, for example, use the archive as a tool. So then, you know, they'll post websites that have hate speech, and, you know, Nazi symbolisms, things like that. And then they'll ask the Internet Archive to archive that they don't call call them up, that's all automated process. And then instead of using their normal website, they use the archived copy that's deep inside of the Internet Archive, and that copy is gonna stick around. So we want to be careful is how do we create strategies of keeping copies of this problematic and harmful information, but not allow these archives to be used as a tool to stabilize and continue to circulate that information, and it's a really hard line to walk.


Michael Simeone: It's almost as if there's a complex problem. that intersects a lot of different systems of technology, culture, history and politics. There isn't just a merely technological fix for it. It's almost like that's the case.


Shawn Walker: Just just slightly, just slightly.


Michael Simeone: Any final thoughts about these videos and how to respond to them before we wrap up?


Shawn Walker: Sure. And I, there are some cases of the platform's working together and content moderation. So the child pornography, for example, is a place where they're collaborating, and they have databases of the signatures of these images, so they don't store the images themselves. They have like a thumbprint of of the image in these videos. And then when content is posted, they can compare those two things to see is this image of child pornography that we're already aware of, and if it is, they can automatically remove that content. So there are examples where they can work on these, but it's also really, this is a difficult problem. So how do you can recognize this content. So if you take the video and maybe you cut out the first five seconds Now it looks like a different video. So these are really hard problems to solve. These aren't just technological solutions for removing this content or, you know, recognizing the content so we can address that. So this is a really hard space. But I would say that sort of final, my final thought is that it's really important for us to understand the techniques that these videos are using to then sort of grab us and bring us into, you know, a space of of doubt, to then sort of question something. And, you know, while we're questioning the science, now, we're questioning, you know, the, our leaders now we're questioning, you know, our schools, should they be reopening why they made these decisions. And I don't mean that in the sense of we shouldn't think critically about policies, but they're using scientific language in a way. That's not scientific.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And it's kind of corrosive, long term to trust in scientific kind of approaches and institutions, when, in fact, it feels like those institutions are going to need to be trusted a whole lot more going into the future.


Shawn Walker: Yes. I mean, that's... so we can delegitimize those institutions now and those leaders now, then, you know, we basically create chaos afterwards.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, or in the case of this last video that we talked about getting your pretty basic outcomes accomplished, such as sending all children back to school, without any further reflection or reopening the economy without any further reflection and getting all of the benefits and consequences for that, you know, you can cause distrust just so there's general confusion and chaos, but then you can also just make things more pliable to advance a pretty brute force, policy advocacy there. 


Shawn Walker: And it's interesting how both of these videos ignore the context of the rest of the world and how the rest of the world is addressing and successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully addressing the current Coronavirus they just this. This happens in this, this content is created in a vacuum in a way that doesn't reach out to Well, actually, this has been successful. You know, we've seen France isn't using this medication, they're using this medication. But, you know, the doctors in in these films, they just ignore that reality.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. So you're kind of out on an island.


Shawn Walker : Oftentimes the US is an island.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. It's, it's interesting to think about America's exceptional in some in some forms. But on the others, as you mentioned, to kind of seal off your knowl-- you become kind of like a prisoner, and they don't let you in on what's out there in the outside world. You just you're subject to the world that they give to you. 


Shawn Walker: It's a very selective view of the world, and they use this scientific language but their language isn't even pseudoscience. It's just unrecognizable.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. Okay. Well, I think that is an effective way to wrap up today.

Thanks, everybody for joining us on this conversation and we will talk to you in the next one. For questions or comments, use the email address datascience@asu.edu. And to check out more about what we're doing, library.asu.edu/data