‘Physics is fun’: The science videos that are actually fake

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

You may have seen a video of an “ellipsograph” or perhaps a coin rotating between the “magnetic fields” of three batteries. These videos, and many more like them, claim to demonstrate how “incredible” physics is – but they are 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 they have started on the online Reddit forum, 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 specializing in fake physics or science videos. © Observers / Twitter

The man investigating 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 auto post [using for example the software Buffer].

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

Example of a Tweet advertising health products via the "Classic Pictures" account that often relays iconic photos.  According to Paulo Ordoveza, this is an example of retweeting a message in exchange for payment.
Example of a Tweet promoting health products via the “Classic Pics” account which often relays iconic photos. According to Paulo Ordoveza, this is an example of retweeting a message in exchange for payment. ©Twitter

I’ve also noticed that spam accounts frequently use extremely generic subtitles for videos so Reddit subtitles can’t be searched by phrase to sources – or maybe just because they’re lazy .

John C. Dent