The New York Times, which spreads misinformation online and in print, is out with a dire warning: those cute cat (and dog) videos you see online might be a gateway to misinformation:


The website of Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician who researchers say is a chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, regularly posts about cute animals that generate tens or even hundreds of thousands of interactions on Facebook. The stories include “Kitten and Chick Nap So Sweetly Together” and “Why Orange Cats May Be Different From Other Cats,” written by Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian.

The posts with the animals do not directly spread false information. But they can draw a huge audience that can be redirected to a publication or site spreading false information about election fraud, unproven coronavirus cures and other baseless conspiracy theories entirely unrelated to the videos. Sometimes, following a feed of cute animals on Facebook unknowingly signs users up as subscribers to misleading posts from the same publisher.

Unproven coronavirus cures like — hydroxychloroquine! — thanks to Western Journal, a right-wing publication that owns the popular Facebook page Liftable Animals.

More, because there always has to be a professor to weigh in:

Rachel E. Moran, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online misinformation, said it was unclear how often the animal videos led people to misinformation. But posting them continues to be a popular tactic because they run such a low risk of breaking a platform’s rules.

“Pictures of cute animals and videos of wholesome moments are the bread and butter of social media, and definitely won’t run afoul of any algorithmic content moderation detection,” Ms. Moran said.