CDC-Branded Resources Embedded on YouTube Pages from Shadowy Sellers Heightens Concerns about Confusing and Tricking Consumers
Research Findings to be Shared with U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC, Friday, April 3, 2020 – YouTube, whether unwilling or unable, is enabling dubious sellers to push face masks and fraudulent “vaccines” to a public on edge with fear from the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) and Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) found over the past three weeks.
Researchers found multiple examples of videos on YouTube offering medical masks and vaccines that sellers claim will protect buyers from the coronavirus. The “vaccines” are clearly false because there is no coronavirus vaccine. In follow-up conversations the research team initiated with sellers, there was ample reason to believe the offers for masks were dubious as well, as highlighted by interactions with representatives from some of the sellers.
“At a time when most of us want to help our small businesses simply to survive, YouTube is enabling the worst elements of our society to keep their illegal and/or illicit businesses humming along,” said DCA’s Executive Director Tom Galvin. “Millions of Americans are dealing with massive disruptions – job loss, kids without school, worries about elderly relatives – and we’re all making adjustments to our way of life, but YouTube refuses to change the way it does business even when society is in crisis.”
Researchers found posts that were so obviously deceptive that it would be comical if this was not truly a life or death situation. Other sellers didn’t even try and pretend to be legitimate. One seller who simply goes by “Real ID Card Fake Passport Producer” used YouTube to offer “Covid 19 Drugs.” (See photo)
“How does a guy calling himself ‘Real ID Card Fake Passport Producer’ even get a page on YouTube?” asks Eric Feinberg, lead researcher for the Coalition for a Safer Web. Feinberg found the above screenshot offering COVID-19 drugs. “It’s all too easy to get ahold of these guys. We called some of them. Once you contact them, they are relentless. They’ll call you back at all hours and hound you until you buy something. They’ll call you in the middle of the night. They are predators looking to capitalize on our fear.”
Researchers were also concerned that YouTube is including a link to CDC information on these videos from shady operators. Official CDC banners are being placed under any coronavirus related material on YouTube – from news stories by trusted media outlets to the more troubling videos from operators making outlandish claims.
“YouTube also mixes trusted resources with sites that shouldn’t be trusted and that could confuse consumers – especially when they are scared and desperate,” said Galvin. “It’s hard enough to tell who’s legitimate and who’s not on YouTube.”
Digital Citizens did order some of the products offered by some of the mysterious sellers that researchers found. The researchers are still waiting for the products and will update the report if any do arrive. DCA also sent a letter to the Justice Department with the report to alert authorities about this dangerous activity.
To see the DCA/CSW look at coronavirus-related items available on Facebook, go to: https://medium.com/@4SaferInternet_29893/facebook-enables-advertisers-to-exploit-coronavirus-fears-ac79df55917d?sk=3600ca84886195535c640e627e1700c5
The Digital Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization that is a consumer- oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet. Digital Citizens wants to create a dialogue on the importance for Internet stakeholders— individuals, government and industry—to make the Web a safer place. Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical and creative industries as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at www.digitalcitizensalliance.org.
The Coalition for a Safer Web is a non-partisan, not-for-profit advocacy organization whose mission is, inter alia, to promote new public/private partnerships to facilitate the expeditious removal of extremist & terrorist incitement and instruction content from social media platforms. Visit us at coalitionsw.org. CSW uses technology from The Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center (GIPEC). GIPEC Worldwide is a cyber intelligence company that uses patented tools to interrogate the deep web and social media. To learn more about GIPEC visit www.gipec.com.
For more information, contact Adam Benson, [email protected], 202.999.9104