Correction (3/29/21): This piece has been corrected to identify Lee Merritt as a woman.
Multiple alternative streaming platforms have been hosting videos promoting misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. These videos have often received significant numbers of views and have in turn been spread onto mainstream platforms like Facebook.
In recent months, as the vaccine rollout has ramped up in the United States and worldwide, mainstream social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, have struggled to combat content that is casting doubt or trying to create fear about coronavirus vaccines -- which are safe and effective -- despite their claims to ban vaccine misinformation on the platforms. In particular, videos targeting the vaccines have been spreading significantly.
But anti-vaccine videos are not spreading on just mainstream platforms: Alternative streaming platforms known for lax moderation rules -- BitChute, Rumble, lbry.tv, Brand New Tube, Infowars’ streaming platform banned.video, and Brighteon -- have hosted anti-vaccine videos in recent months that have earned millions of views combined. During that time, Media Matters has tracked multiple instances of this harmful content spreading to Facebook, in violation of that platform’s coronavirus misinformation ban.
- In January, a video of Simone Gold -- the head of the group “America’s Frontline Doctors” who was arrested for participating in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol -- falsely claiming the vaccines will yield a positive test for the virus received nearly 1.5 million views on lbry.tv, more than 1.4 million views on Rumble, and nearly 20,000 views on BitChute. In turn, links to those videos have earned more than 60,000 Facebook engagements combined, according to CrowdTangle.
- In December and January, a video that was part of a series called Planet Lockdown, which made multiple false claims about the vaccines, earned more than 100,000 views each on Rumble and on BitChute, along with nearly half a million views on banned.video. These links have in turn received thousands of combined Facebook engagements.
- In January and February, a video of an anti-vaxxer named Sherri Tenpenny falsely claiming that people would get diseases and die from the vaccines received more than 2.2 million combined views across multiple videos on BitChute; it earned an additional 130,000 views on Brighteon. Links to those videos earned more than 60,000 Facebook engagements combined.
- In January, a video of a woman named Lee Merritt falsely claiming doses of the vaccines arrived in distribution centers in Nebraska before it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration received more than 560,000 views on Rumble and more than 60,000 views on BitChute. Links to those videos got thousands of engagements on Facebook.
Even when anti-vaccine videos from alternate platforms did not garner as high of engagement on Facebook, harmful misinformation that violates the company’s rules against coronavirus misinformation is still making it onto the platform.
- In March, a video of anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree claiming that a Belgian veterinarian named Geert Vanden Bossche had shown the vaccines would bring “catastrophe” earned more than 110,000 views on Rumble, more than 260,000 views on Brighteon, and 20,000 views each on BitChute and on Brand New Tube. The Rumble video also got 5,000 Facebook engagements.
- In February, a video falsely claiming the vaccines change people’s DNA earned more than 81,000 views on BitChute, while a sequel to another anti-vaccine video -- which features Gold and Coleman, among others -- received more than 70,000 views on Brand New Tube. The latter also received more than 16,000 Facebook engagements.
Other anti-vaccine videos, even those with very low Facebook engagement numbers, have still gotten high view counts on these alternative platforms.
- In February, a video of a woman named Dolores Cahill falsely claiming mRNA vaccines would cause numerous deaths earned more than 420,000 views on banned.video and another 20,000 views on BitChute.
- In March, a video falsely claiming that Bossche showed the vaccines will cause a “worldwide genocide” received more than 36,000 views on BitChute and 28,000 views on lbry.tv.
Additionally, a video from Rumble of an apparent QAnon supporter who spoke at the rally before the January 6 insurrection claiming the vaccines are purposefully being used to kill people was repackaged and shared on Instagram in March, where it received more than 100,000 views.
Most of these alternate streaming platforms do not have rules that bar anti-vaccine misinformation and are known for carrying far-right content in general, though BitChute technically prohibits content that promotes “harmful activities,” which it defines as “the injection / ingestion of dangerous substances, self-harm, suicide and other activities that are intended to lead to someone getting badly hurt or worse.” When asked by Slate in March about the platform’s coronavirus vaccine misinformation content, Rumble did not directly address it.
Nonetheless, these alternative platforms have helped undermine mainstream platform’s efforts to ban anti-vaccine misinformation, and they have become significant vectors for misinformation that could harm the vaccination campaign needed to end the pandemic.