YouTube has monetized multiple videos pushing or alluding to the baseless claim that COVID-19 vaccines have caused the deaths of numerous young people, celebrities, and high-profile figures, even though YouTube’s own rules prohibit content falsely claiming vaccines can cause death or chronic side effects.
During the coronavirus pandemic, anti-vaccine figures have pushed baseless claims that sudden deaths, particularly those of celebrities, athletes, and young people, are caused by COVID-19 vaccines. These claims have been repeatedly debunked, with no evidence that these incidents are tied to vaccines (in fact, they often are explicitly tied to other health incidents). Died Suddenly — a movie released by conspiracy theorist Stew Peters in November — particularly popularized these anti-vaccine claims.
Using the tracking tool BuzzSumo, Media Matters reviewed videos titled with variations of phrases related to the claim that sudden deaths are caused by vaccines (“died suddenly” or “sudden death”) since last November, when Died Suddenly was released online. Media Matters found multiple videos with these terms, some with revenue-generating ads and which directly invoked or alluded to these claims, including with respect to the unexpected deaths of former NFL player Jesse Lemonier, former Arizona swimmer Ty Wells, and right-wing personality Lynette Hardaway (known as “Diamond” of “Diamond & Silk”).
YouTube’s policies explicitly prohibit “claims that an approved COVID-19 vaccine will cause death, infertility, miscarriage, autism, or contraction of other infectious diseases” and “content alleging that vaccines cause chronic side effects, outside of rare side effects that are recognized by health authorities.”
The videos featuring revenue-generating ads, which have gotten hundreds of thousands of total views, push the claim in varied ways:
- A video that also sells merchandise that YouTube profits from is dedicated to and includes a Rumble link to Died Suddenly. In it, a speaker says of the movie, “This video, man, is very, very scary, sad, and it pisses me off, and everybody should watch it,” and that it is a “must-watch for everybody in the world.”
- A video features a speaker hyping Died Suddenly, saying the movie was about how “over the last two years young people are dropping dead all around the globe” and adding, “We know what happened in the last two years, the pandemic, COVID, all of that.” He said the movie “made me think, like, ‘Do I know anyone who has, like, passed away from the shot?’” He then said a family member knew someone “whose sister passed away just after the shot.”
- A video (which also features merchandise) about the death of a former NFL player featured a speaker tying the former player’s death to what he claimed was a series of “young athletes and … younger people all of a sudden just dying.” While he did not explicitly mention vaccines, he added that he “read some of the comments down here on Yahoo” and “you know where it’s going. You know where the questions are going,” adding that “a lot of people, man, they are definitely, definitely speculating, even here — I don’t even have to read the comments and I know where the comments are going. … And I get it, guys. I really, really do get it. It seems like we’re almost making these videos on a weekly basis.” (Another video with ads alluding to vaccines from that same channel featured a different speaker connecting the death of a college swimmer to other athletes’ deaths in recent weeks and saying, “I know I certainly have my suspicions. I know you guys do as well.”)
- A video discussing the death of right-wing influencer Lynnette Hardaway — better known as “Diamond” of the duo “Diamond and Silk” — praises Rochelle Richardson (“Silk”) for suggesting the vaccine had something to do with Hardaway’s death, playing a clip in which Silk said that it was “time to investigate what’s really going on here” and get “some answers to why are people falling dead suddenly.”
- A video features a voiceover speculating about recent deaths. The speaker reads comments including “Have you noticed how many youngish people are having heart attacks lately?” and “I don’t know if you’ve been following the issue of significantly increased all-cause mortality over the past two years. The media is not covering it. And in fact, more like covering it up.” The speaker also referenced vaccines, saying, “There’s certain things that they don’t like you to talk about” and noting that instead of saying the word vaccine, “I’m going to have to kind of, you know, bleep it out” in order to avoid detection. The speaker then spoke in gibberish in lieu of saying the word “vaccine.”