For accurate information on COVID-19, there are many places you can go. Your physician. Your local health department. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
YouTube removed the video because it violated its policies against false claims regarding the virus from a meeting of St. Louis County Council members earlier this month.
County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said that she supports mask wearing and believes most of her constituents support it. Clancy still worries about the effects of misinformation, even though the video was restored.
Videos of local government meetings are the latest source of COVID-19 misinformation. They broadcast misleading claims about vaccines and masks to millions, creating new challenges for internet platforms that try to balance the need for openness and the potential harm.
The latest video to go viral features a local physician who made several misleading claims about COVID-19 while addressing the Mount Vernon Community School Corporation in Fortville, Indiana, on Aug. 6. In six minutes, Dr. Dan Stock explains to the board that vaccines don’t prevent infection and masks don’t work.
The video has been viewed millions of times online, prompting the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) to take action. Multiple messages to Stock for comment were not returned.
“Here’s a doctor wearing suspenders who appears before the school board and basically states what some people think: the masks and vaccines don’t work, and the CDC lies — it can be very compelling for laypeople,” Dr. Zubin Dmania, a California doctor who received so many messages regarding the Indiana clip, that he made his own video discrediting Stock’s claims.
Damania hosts ZDoggMD, an online medical show. His video discrediting Stock’s comments has been seen more than 400,000 times. Stock’s wide-ranging criticism of vaccines and masks was too harsh, he said. While there are valid questions about the effectiveness mask requirements for children, he stated that Stock’s comments were not correct.
YouTube removed similar videos from several local government meetings in North Carolina and Missouri. Officials in Bellingham, Washington responded by suspending temporarily public comment sessions.
False claims were made during public comment portion of the meeting. Local officials claim that they have no control over the content of these forums and that is part of their point.
YouTube released video from Kansas’ May school board meeting. The Shawnee Mission district, which has 27,000 students, was attended by parents and a state legislator. Parents demanded that the district remove its mask mandate. They cited “medical misinformation.”
While a mask mandate is still in place, the district responded by removing livestreaming from the public comment period. David Smith, a district spokesperson, acknowledged that it was difficult to balance accessibility and spreading fallacies.
Smith stated, “It was difficult for me to hear statements in the board meeting which weren’t true” and to know that these were being sent out without contradiction. “I support free speech but it’s hard to listen when free speech threatens people’s lives.
YouTube reversed its decision after hearing from local officials and uploaded the videos again. YouTube, which is owned and controlled by Google, announced earlier this month a change in its COVID misinformation policy. This allows for exceptions to local government meetings. However, YouTube may still remove content using remarks from public forums to mislead.
Elena Hernandez, a company spokesperson, stated that while we have policies in place to eliminate harmful COVID-19 misinformation we also recognize the importance organizations such as school districts or city councils using YouTube for sharing recordings of open forums.
Other platforms have been challenged by the flood of false claims about this virus. Twitter and Facebook have their own policies regarding COVID-19 misinformation. They say they, like YouTube attach labels to misleading content and remove it from their sites.
Local residents have been making colorful comments at public comment sessions that precede local government meetings for years. However, before the internet, it was unlikely that anyone would make a national news story if they rant about fluoride in drinking water.
The internet and social media have made it possible for misleading musings from local doctors to be heard before school boards.
According to Jennifer Grygiel (communications professor at Syracuse University), it was only a matter time before misleading comments at these public forums went viral. Grygiel studies social media platforms.
Grygiel suggested several ways to reduce misinformation’s impact without ignoring local governments. Grygiel stated that clear labels on broadcasts from government agencies would make it easier for viewers to understand what they are watching. Instead of sharing the video on YouTube, keeping the video on the government’s site could enable local residents to view it without allowing the spreading of the videos.
Grygiel stated that “anytime there’s a public forum – a hearing at the city council, a meeting of the school board, or a park – the public can spread misinformation.” “It used to be local, but it has changed.”