YouTubers capitalizing on public fear of novel coronavirus condemned

By Ji Yuqiao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/5 18:25:29

A person wearing mask walks in Clinic of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine of the Peking University People's Hospital in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Some little-known video creators are trying to attract more followers and make a profit by producing and publishing unprofessional or even fake content on YouTube. Their actions are being condemned by some as trying to make a "viral fortune."

According to US media reports, content about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province has been trending on social media platforms including YouTube, so bloggers have begun to produce related videos to introduce the deadly virus or preventive measures.

However, many of them have also been causing alarm by spreading unsubstantiated claims, scams and sometimes outright disinformation.

"I'm here with a really important message about the coronavirus," Chris Martenson, one of the founders of the financial website Peak Prosperity, said at the beginning of a video entitled "Coronavirus Is Worse Than You've Been Told: Scientist Explains."

"Unfortunately if you've been reading the news you've either been under-informed or misinformed about what this virus really is. It's a very serious thing," he continues. "To get more updates, please come by [my website]. We have a place for subscribers who want to go a little deeper and get some good advice about what they can do."

In just one week, Martenson's YouTube account added 12,000 more paid subscribers.

In the video, Martenson calls himself a scientist, a statement refuted by Dr. Angela Hewlett, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. 

"He's not a practicing physician, he's just a guy with a science background who's taken an interest in this virus," Hewlett said and clarified that she didn't see anything in Martenson's videos that gave her cause for concern, as quoted by a report from Mother Jones.

Fortunately, the videos Martenson has posted were just unprofessional rather than harmful information, China Central Television reported.

According to Mother Jones, another YouTube channel called the Atlantis Report has started to publish conspiracy-mongering coronavirus videos with titles like "Is Coronavirus part of the Bio warfare being waged against China using Drones?!" and "The Wuhan Coronavirus, A Bio-Weapon stolen from Canada And Intentionally Released in China!?"containing much fake information.

Not all YouTubers are trying to stir up a panic to get viewership.

Jerry Kowal, a vlogger with more than 290,000 subscribers on YouTube, said in a video on coronavirus that he thinks the most terrible problem in this disaster is not infection but panic. The public does not need to be in a panic.

"These videos are useless and only spreading rumors as well as panic to the public," a doctor surnamed Wu, who works in a hospital in North China's Shanxi Province and is fighting the virus, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"I can understand how the public is concerned about the coronavirus, but this should not be an excuse for video producers to casually spread information. They have responsibility to speak out truth, which can really help control the harm of virus," she added.

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