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A French coronavirus conspiracy video stayed on YouTube and Facebook for months

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PARIS — Until very recently, a French COVID-19 conspiracy video called “Hold-up” was just a click away. 

The film was still easily accessible online more than six months after its release in November last year, including on mainstream online platforms like Google’s YouTube and Facebook, according to a report by nonprofit EU DisinfoLab and additional research by POLITICO. 

YouTube removed the videos after POLITICO flagged them ahead of publishing this story.

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“Hold-up,” which presents itself as a well-researched documentary, claims the coronavirus pandemic is a secret plot by the global elite to eliminate a part of the world population and control the rest — a common belief among conspiracy theorists — and is similar to an American video, “Plandemic,” which also released last year. 

But while Google and Facebook clamped down hard on Plandemic, its French counterpart could still be found online both in full and via extracts until May 10. 

“YouTube acted quickly and aggressively to remove Plandemic; but in the case of Hold-up, YouTube’s inaction allowed the dissemination of conspiracy theories with serious harmful consequences for public health,” reads EU DisinfoLab’s report.

Since the pandemic began last year, online platforms have banned medical falsehoods, removed millions of pieces of COVID-19 disinformation and worked with national governments to promote trustworthy content. YouTube removed more than 900,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 medical information. Facebook removed more than 16 million pieces of content for violating its rules on COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation

But a POLITICO review of Facebook posts, Twitter messages, YouTube channels and TikTok videos from March showed that coronavirus-related fake news is still rampant, even on mainstream platforms — highlighting the difficulties in fighting against increasingly sophisticated medical disinformation.

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A dozen videos

“Hold-up” was released on November 11 last year, and reached nearly 3 million views five days later. It was first published behind a paywall on Vimeo and became even more viral after the platform banned it.

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In 24 hours, it was uploaded on YouTube by 48 different accounts, according to France Inter, and links to the video were shared on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  

Traditional media outlets were quick to fact-check the film. AFP Factuel, the newswire’s fact-checking department, identified dozens of misleading or false comments, including on the origin of the virus, the danger of masks and hydroxychloroquine, a drug peddled by former U.S. President Donald Trump, as a cure for the disease. One of the people featured in the video — former Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy — dissociated himself from it, arguing he was “trapped” by the filmmakers.

Initially, YouTube did remove Hold-up videos, forcing uploaders to move to more fringe platforms like Odysee, a video-sharing platform popular among conspiracy theorists. 

But research by EU DisinfoLab shows that, on May 6, at least 12 full versions of the video and numerous extracts were still online and easily searchable on the platform. One of them was the third result of a “Hold-up, full version” YouTube search. The full version videos that were still online until this week were uploaded six months ago and had gathered about 1.1 million views. 

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Web archives reviewed by EU DisinfoLab also showed that one of Hold-up’s full versions, which had generated about 2 million views, was still on the Google-owned platform until at least February — three months after the conspiracy documentary was released.

“To ensure the safety and security of our users, YouTube has clear policies which detail what content is allowed on the platform. As the COVID-19 situation has developed, we have continued to update our medical misinformation policies. We removed the video Hold Up because it now violates YouTube’s Medical Misinformation policy,” said a YouTube spokesperson.

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A Google search for Hold-up led until May 10 to YouTube clips of the conspiracy video | Screenshot by Laura Kayali

‘Double standards’

In recent months, research has indicated that U.S. online platforms are putting in more effort to fight medical disinformation in their home country than elsewhere. An April report by campaign group Avaaz showed that disinformation and false statements about the coronavirus were twice as likely to stay up on Facebook if they were viewed in Europe compared to the U.S., where they were taken down more proactively. 

“Hold-up is a francophone problem and, to American platforms under high pressure in the U.S., France is not a priority. France is the equivalent of a small American state,” said Tristan Mendès France, an associate lecturer at Université Paris-Diderot and specialist of conspiracy theories, who pointed out that Plandemic’s audience was significantly bigger because it’s in English. 

On Google.fr, the first three search results for “Hold-up, version intégrale” until May 10 led to three YouTube videos of the documentary posted in November by three different accounts. A Google.com search for “Plandemic, full version” results in fact-checking and mainstream media clips about the U.S. conspiracy video.

On Facebook, a “Hold-up documentaire” search on May 10 led to several links to the video. By contrast, a “Plandemic documentary” search led to the platform’s COVID-19 information center. Users are redirected to the information center when they search for key words directly associated with vaccines or COVID-19, which is not the case for “Hold-up.”

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A Facebook search for Hold-up leads to full clips of the conspiracy video | Screenshot by Laura Kayali
A Facebook search for Plandemic leads to the platform’s Covid information center | Screenshot by Laura Kayali

“We are taking aggressive steps to fight harmful COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic, including removing content like this video which breaks our rules,” said a spokesperson for Facebook.

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To tackle the “double standard,” EU DisinfoLab recommends regulation that would ensure harmonized standards on disinformation and accountability from platforms, in all countries and languages. The EU’s proposed content moderation rules, known as the Digital Services Act, is “a step in this direction,” the group said.

“This raises a central question: Are the platforms’ terms of services universal, or do they differ depending on where you are?” said Alexandre Alaphilippe, EU DisinfoLab’s executive director.

“Europeans are becoming second-class users.”

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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