Truth or Fake

'Physics is fun': The science videos that are actually fake

Beware of science videos on social media – they could be fake!
Beware of science videos on social media – they could be fake! © Observers

There’s a new trend in the world of disinformation: pseudo-science videos. These short videos on social media show a ‘scientific experiment’ or a 3D model performing a mind-boggling trick, all accompanied by the caption telling us “Physics is cool!” These videos may seem like harmless timewasters, but they’re just the visible part of a lucrative business that steals artists’ work and exploits it for views and money.

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You may have already seen a video of an “ellipsograph”, or perhaps the one of a coin spinning between the “magnetic fields” of three batteries. These videos, and many others like them, claim to demonstrate how “amazing” physics is – but they’re actually fake.

The types of accounts that share these videos on Twitter all have very similar names: @zone_astronomy, @Physicsastronmy, @amazing_physics or @physicsvids_. They regularly post videos that they’ve lifted off the online forum Reddit, often without crediting the original motion designer or digital artist and without specifying that these videos are often graphic creations.

Some examples of Twitter accounts specialising in fake physics or science videos.
Some examples of Twitter accounts specialising in fake physics or science videos. © Observers / Twitter

The man investigating the fake physics accounts 

On Twitter, the account @PicPedant debunks these fake science videos. The man behind the account is Paulo Ordoveza, an American living in Canada. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team:

Often, what I’ve noticed is that these imagery spam accounts get their content from Reddit via automatic posting [using for example the software Buffer].

Other times, they do sponsored retweets of other content. Of course, the whole point of automatic posting is to make money. For that, they offer to retweet content from brands or marketing specialists and to get paid for it. But they don’t do it directly: they always use an intermediary Twitter account that they’ll then retweet.

Example of a Tweet advertising health products through the "Classic Pics" account which often relays iconic photos. According to Paulo Ordoveza, this is an example of retweeting a post in exchange for payment.
Example of a Tweet advertising health products through the "Classic Pics" account which often relays iconic photos. According to Paulo Ordoveza, this is an example of retweeting a post in exchange for payment. © Twitter
I've also noticed the spam accounts frequently using extremely generic-sounding captions for videos so that Reddit captions can't be phrase-searched back to sources -- or possibly just because they're lazy.