A YouTuber who is obsessed with UFOs created misleading videos on his YouTube account where he targeted Latin America despite the debunk of conspiracies.
YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google, its parent company and this is where a YouTuber created a channel about conspiracy theories. This channel now has more than one million subscribers and was able to create 21 videos in less than 40 days. The videos focused on creating false information and rumors about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic around Latin America. The said YouTube channel called Conciencia Radio did not stop creating and publishing misleading content while people kept watching them even when a fact-checking agency said that the channel’s content is fake.
Slowing The Spread of Fake Information
In December 2019, the video-sharing platform announced that it would slow down the spread of misinformation and disinformation. These efforts include driving viewers into trustworthy sources whenever they are searching for videos and information related to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Conciencia Radio’s case shows that false information is still prevalently happening on YouTube.
More than 95,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in at least 75 countries as of the time of writing. The pandemic led to more than 3,200 deaths as recorded by the public health data publicized by John Hopkins University. Latin America has also begun experiencing the fatality of the virus. On February 26, Brazil recorded its first-ever case of novel coronavirus while Mexico confirmed a total of four cases on February 28 and 29. On the other hand, Ecuador also recorded its first COVID-19 case on February 29. However, the Conciencia Radio YouTube channel started spreading rumors about the number of infected individuals in Latin America even before the real data was publicized.
More Rumors Mean More Views
The aforementioned YouTube channel was created in March 2008 by Alexander Backman, a conspiracy theorist, and UFO believer. Backman mentioned in his blog that he is interested in chemtrails, alien abductions, biblical giants, the Illuminati, as well as preparing for End Times. Despite the fact that the location of the YouTube channel is set to the United States, the videos it contains are published in Spanish and seems to be targeting mostly Latin Americans as its audiences. What’s more is that the YouTube channel has a verification badge, a badge given by YouTube itself to channels that have more than 100,000 subscribers. The YouTube badge is also an indication the channel is handled by an identified person or organization.
Acquiring Views for Conspiracy Theories
The Conciencia Radio started publishing videos related to the novel coronavirus on January 22. It mentioned that COVID-19has been proliferating in Latin American countries ever since the first days of February. However, there is not a single evidence to support these claims and the first case of coronavirus in Latin America was confirmed only in late February. The channel also shared conspiracy theories saying that the coronavirus was genetically engineered and created by China as a biological weapon. The channel also posted similar claims about HIV/AIDS.
Through the use of BuzzSumo, a social analytics tool, it was found out that the views and subscribers of Conciencia Radio showed a drastic increase ever since January after the channel posted its first video related to coronavirus. Since the month of January, the YouTube channel was able to garner 13,600 subscribers and over 2.2 million views. The data also showed that Cociencia Radio had its most number of views during January and February 2020, an indication that the rumors it spread about coronavirus have generated more views than average.
YouTube’s Most Untrusted Sources
Most of the videos in the said YouTube channel significantly relied on untrusted sources. For example, the channel cited the VeteransToday as its source when it suggested that the novel coronavirus is a biological weapon created by China. It can be recalled that the DFRLab reported VeteransToday as a junk news website that is known to republish content created by Russians. The Conciencia Radio also cited globalresearch.ca, another website that shared conspiracy theories in the past.
The video that garnered the most views in the channel was the one where Alexander Backman claimed the coronavirus was genetically engineered and has the DNA strands of Hepatitis-C and HIV. To support this conspiracy theory, Backman used a research paper that is still on its early stage and is published on bioRxiv, on January 31. However, the authors of the said study withdrew it from bioRxiv on February 2 after several scientists voiced out their concerns over the study on Twitter. Still, Backman kept using the study as a reference for his other videos.
Debunking the Conciencia Radio’s Content
Colombiacheck, an agency that fact checks social media content debunked two of Backman’s videos where he claimed that COVID-19 has already reached Colombia. On February 12 and 14, Backman published on his channel two videos saying that the virus has been confirmed in Colombia and that one person has already died. He also mentioned that he heard the information from sources that he did not elaborate.
Moreover, Colombiacheck said that the infections in Ibague came from a different coronavirus which is not related to COVID-19. Ever since the mid-1960s, a total of seven coronaviruses were identified. This means that a person can be diagnosed with having coronavirus without being infected by COVID-19. Yet, despite the fact that his disinformation was exposed by the fact-checking agency, Backman continued to publish the wrong information in his channel.
In the past months since the novel coronavirus began proliferating, it has been discussed all over social media, including people from Latin America. The YouTube channel in question was found out to be uploading videos that are based either on conspiracy theories or rumors. This shows that despite the efforts of YouTube’s algorithm to limit the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, conspiracy theories, including videos about the novel coronavirus continue to become a major threat. For this reason, people have to be more cautious about the information that they believe in.