FactCheck Social Media

No, this video didn’t predict today’s coronavirus pandemic in 1956

2020-12-18 17:55:55

The Statement

A black-and-white video – purportedly from 1956 – predicts a worldwide pandemic that erupts out of Asia in 2020.

The post, from a Facebook user in Fiji, features a video titled Avoiding The Future Plague, with a listed production date of February 29, 1956. A caption accompanying the video, which appears to be playing on a mobile phone, reads, “This video was made 64years (sic) ago – Take note to listen to the last 45 seconds on the video as well.”

The video begins with the narrator saying, “When you think of the future, you likely envision the remarkable technologies that you’ve seen in comic books and films.” The audio is accompanied by footage of flying cars and household robots among other imagery.

The video goes on to note that the future “isn’t without its darker sides”.

“Perhaps worst of all will be the emergence of a deadly and potentially devastating disease. Experts predict that by the year 2020, a new virus will rise, spreading from somewhere in Asia to the rest of the world,” the narrator says.

“A sickness which would have been contained in years past will quickly spread to all corners of the globe.”

The Facebook post includes the caption, “Very very interesting. The future is now they say…”

At the time of writing, the post had been shared more than 195 times and viewed more than 15,000 times.

A Facebook post
 A video shared by a Facebook user is supposedly from 1956 and it predicts a pandemic in 2020. 

The Analysis

Nostradamus need not worry about the rise of rival prognosticators – the video included in the post is a satirical YouTube creation that was uploaded in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Facebook post only shows half of the original four-minute video, which was uploaded to YouTube on March 1, 2020 by user “RamsesThePigeon”.

In the description on the video, “Ramses,” who is actually writer and satirist Max Patrick Schlienger, writes: “It’s hilarious to look back on what people from the 1950s thought the future would be like.” He said it drew on public domain video footage acquired from Archive.org.

For example, the footage seen in the video at 19 seconds of a “house-cleaning robot” is from a 1940 educational film called, Leave It To Roll-Oh.

AAP FactCheck contacted Schlienger, who acknowledged that the video was satirical.

“I created the piece in question. The video itself is an amalgam of public-domain footage from commercials, movies, and PSAs, and the voiceover is my own work,” he said in an email.

Footage from the unedited YouTube video makes it even clearer it’s a parody with lines like “children would prefer to attempt the carefree murder of their playmates rather than lecture one another about covering their mouths when they cough”.

It also cuts to a vintage 1954 commercial for Doeskin dinner napkins and concludes with a joke ending, promising to deliver “the answer for how to avoid the deadly virus” which is then immediately followed by a title card saying “footage missing”.

Edited versions of the original video have been shared many times on Facebook – including here, here, here and here.

Schlienger hosted a question-and-answer session on Reddit about his video. He noted that his satire was being shared around the internet in misleading contexts.

“The piece was originally intended to lampoon the anti-science perspectives that were beginning to crop up at the start of this year … and the fact that my work is now being used to support those perspectives is disheartening,” he told AAP FactCheck.

Schlienger also offered this advice to viewers in his Reddit post: “As a final thought, remember to question the veracity of (and the motivations behind) what you see, hear, and read… because it might end up being a joke.”

The video has been previously debunked as satire here, here and here.

People wearing face masks in Sydney's CBD.
 People wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 has become part of life during the pandemic. 

The Verdict

The post’s video is a satire that features archival footage to create an impression it was made in 1956 and delivered predictions for the future, including about the COVID-19 pandemic. The video’s creator, Max Patrick Schlienger, confirmed to AAP FactCheck the video was created as satire.

Satire – The content uses irony, exaggeration, or absurdity for criticism or awareness, particularly in the context of political, religious, or social issues, but a reasonable user would not immediately understand it to be satirical.

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