Facebook deleted a viral video full of false coronavirus claims. Then Trump shared it on Twitter.
The video claimed that face masks and lockdowns are not needed to stop the virus.
On Monday evening, Facebook scrubbed from its site a viral video showing a group of doctors making misleading and false claims about the coronavirus pandemic after more than 14 million people had watched it. Hours later, President Donald Trump tweeted out multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers.
Trump shared the video — which claims that face masks and lockdowns are not needed to stop the disease — as he shared 14 tweets over a half-hour span defending the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that the president has repeatedly promoted, and attacking Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious-diseases expert.
Twitter soon followed Facebook and YouTube in removing the videos, deleting several of the tweets that Trump shared, and even adding a note to its trending topics warning about the potential risks of hydroxychloroquine use.
"Tweets with the video are in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy," Liz Kelley, a spokeswoman for Twitter, told The Washington Post.
Trump's decision to share the misleading video comes amid mounting criticism, from opponents and allies alike, over his handling of a pandemic that has now killed at least 145,000 people in the U.S. The president spent months obstinately denying the severity of the crisis, refusing to wear a mask in public, blaming rising case numbers on testing, and campaigning against governors' shutdown orders. In recent weeks, however, Trump has occasionally changed tack, donning a mask in public for the first time earlier this month and deciding to cancel the Republican National Convention celebrations set to take place in Jacksonville, Fla.
But on Monday, the president again turned to promoting a drug that the Food and Drug Administration warns carries significant health risks, and portraying the widely accepted scientific consensus on its use as an attack on his reelection campaign.
The video Trump shared Monday night showed a collection of doctors speaking in favor of treating COVID-19 patients with the antimalarial drug. The clip focused on the testimony of a woman named Stella Immanuel, who received a medical license in Texas last November, according to state records. The doctor did not return a request for comment.
Immanuel says she previously worked as a doctor in Nigeria and also calls herself a "Deliverance Minister" who is "God's battle axe and weapon of war." She has given sermons attacking progressive values and promoting conspiracy theories including, in her words, "the gay agenda, secular humanism, Illuminati and the demonic new world order." Another doctor shown in the video, a noted Trump supporter, called Immanuel a "warrior."
"You don't need a mask," Immanuel claimed in the video, contradicting the widely accepted medical advice that has been promoted even by the White House coronavirus task force and Trump himself. She repeatedly called studies questioning the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine "fake science."
"We don't need to be locked down," she continued, despite evidence that stay-at-home orders have helped curb the spread of the virus. "America there is a cure for covid."
There is no known cure for the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Multiple studies have disputed claims that antimalarial and antiviral drugs like hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and chloroquine can help treat or even prevent coronavirus. Last month, the FDA revoked an emergency approval that allowed doctors to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients even though the treatment was untested.
Still, Trump has repeatedly promoted the drugs. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, took to Fox News this month to urge the FDA to issue a new emergency approval for the drug after a study, widely panned by scientists as flawed, showed some effectiveness from early use of the medication. The White House did not return a request for comment late Monday.
The controversial video was promoted across social media platforms earlier on Monday by conservative site Breitbart News, a political group called the Tea Party Patriots, and a recently formed coalition of advocates calling themselves America's Frontline Doctors. Neither Breitbart nor the organizers behind the event responded to The Post's requests for comment.
Facebook removed the video first, around 9:30 p.m., but not before more than 14 million people had watched it on the platform. Google followed suit, removing the video from Breitbart's YouTube channel on Monday evening.
"We removed it for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a tweet.
After Facebook removed the video, Immanuel offered the tech company a warning on Twitter.
"Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers with start crashing till you do," she wrote. "You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book will be down in Jesus name."
By early Tuesday morning, after Trump's retweets, Twitter joined Facebook and YouTube in blocking the misleading video. The platform also added an editorial note to its trending topics, where the search term "Breitbart" had been spiking for hours as people posted about the video. "Hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for COVID-19, according to the FDA," the new trending topic said, in addition to providing additional context about hydroxychloroquine. Several tweets with the video, including at least two shared by Trump, were removed. The social media site also removed a tweet by Donald Trump Jr., that featured a version of the video.
Despite the platforms' efforts to suppress the misinformation, tens of millions of people watched it online Monday, and different versions of the clip could still be found on the social media platforms early Tuesday morning, as people continued to share and re-upload the video.
America's Frontline Doctors has a website that appears to be just 12 days old. That site links to the Twitter account of the group's founder, Simone Gold, a Trump-supporting doctor based in Los Angeles. The group claims to consist of several doctors who appear to be licensed in California, Georgia and Texas.
Different versions of the clip were shared on Monday by Breitbart, which covered the group's news conference, and the Tea Party Patriots, which had reportedly organized the summit.
Social media sites have moved to shut down misleading information about the coronavirus pandemic in the past. In May, Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo removed a trailer for a documentary called "Plandemic" after it went viral. That video falsely claimed masks could be harmful and promoted conspiracy theories about Fauci.
Monday's viral video prompted thousands of posts spreading false information about the pandemic. The first tweet the president shared, which included the clip, suggested hydroxychloroquine was being maligned in a ploy to discredit Trump and harm his reelection bid.
“WOW!! Doctor calls out what should be the biggest scandal in modern American history,” said the now-deleted tweet shared by Trump. “The suppression of #Hydroxychloroquine by Fauci & the Democrats to perpetuate COVID deaths to hurt Trump.”