A film featuring a known anti-vaxxer pushing conspiracy theories and false claims about the novel coronavirus, including attacking vaccines, has racked up more than 9 million views on YouTube. Additionally, the video and its reuploads have tallied more than 16 million Facebook engagements. The spread of the film -- called “Plandemic” -- through reuploads on YouTube shows the platform’s continuing issues with enforcing its policies against coronavirus misinformation during this public health crisis.
In March, as the disease spread throughout the United States, YouTube wrote that it had “worked to prevent misinformation associated with the spread of the virus” and would “quickly remove videos that violate our policies when they are flagged, including those that discourage people from seeking medical treatment or claim harmful substances have health benefits.”
Yet despite that promise -- and despite YouTube’s attempts to take the video down for violating its policies -- “Plandemic” has gone viral on the platform, and has been going viral on Facebook and even trending on Twitter. In the video, a filmmaker named Mikki Willis interviews Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former chronic fatigue researcher whose claims have been retracted by a scientific journal and who was arrested for “allegedly stealing equipment belonging to the Institute that fired her.”
Mikovits has since become popular in anti-vaxx circles -- she attended a recent major anti-vaxx summit -- and has also become involved in efforts to have Dr. Anthony Fauci fired as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force (she relitigated her claims against him, which he has denied, in the film).
The film makes multiple false and misleading claims about the coronavirus and public health. Mikovits argues that mandatory coronavirus vaccines will “kill millions as they already have with their vaccines,” and that “flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting COVID-19” and are part of a plot against what Willis calls “natural remedies” for the virus. Mikovits also asserts that it’s “insanity” to close beaches because somehow the sand and “healing microbes in the ocean” will actually help treat the virus. She also touts anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, despite multiple studies casting doubt on its use, and she and the film push the false claim that the death count from COVID-19 is being inflated. To push that claim the film includes footage of two California doctors pushing the claim in a video that YouTube has already removed for violating the platform’s rules. The film also falsely suggests that wearing a mask could be harmful.
A review by Media Matters found dozens of reuploads of the film in addition to Willis’ original upload on May 4 (including one from a major supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory), resulting in more than 9 million views combined (which includes videos still up and those since taken down). The high view count was achieved despite YouTube continuing to take down reuploads of the video for violating its Community Guidelines. Some of the reuploads have received hundreds of thousands of views on their own.
Much of the video’s YouTube virality is likely thanks to Facebook, where Media Matters’ review also found the videos receiving more than 16 million Facebook engagements (Facebook on May 7 announced that it would ban shares of the film). Some of the uploads of the video have received millions of Facebook engagements on their own. Many of the engagements have come from Facebook groups, including anti-vaxx groups, groups demanding an end to stay-at-home orders, and groups promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.
The film has also spread on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
The videos also received tens of thousands of shares on Twitter (where the platform has blocked some hashtags promoting the film), including from Newsmax host and coronavirus grifter Wayne Allyn Root; Darla Shine, the wife of former Fox News executive Bill Shine, who is working on President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign; and some widely followed QAnon accounts.