«

»

May 23 2020

Going Viral

Thank goodness I seek neither fame nor reward and write for myself. If this is how things “go viral” I want no part of it.

How the ‘Plandemic’ Movie and Its Falsehoods Spread Widely Online
By Sheera Frenkel, Ben Decker and Davey Alba, The New York Times
5/20/20

Here’s how “Plandemic” went from a niche conspiracy video to a mainstream phenomenon.

On the morning of May 5, less than 24 hours after Mr. Willis posted “Plandemic,” a Facebook group dedicated to QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy group, posted “Plandemic” to its nearly 25,000 members with the headline “Exclusive Content, Must Watch.”

Within days, more than 1,660 people had shared the video to their own Facebook pages after watching it on the QAnon page, according to CrowdTangle. The video went from being viewed directly on YouTube to people linking out to the video on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels, fueling its rise.

On the afternoon of May 5, Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women’s health physician, shared “Plandemic” with her nearly half a million Facebook followers. Dr. Northrup, who had developed a following from her appearances as a medical expert on “Oprah,” had previously expressed misgivings about vaccines.

Her status as a celebrity doctor made her endorsement of “Plandemic” powerful. After Dr. Northrup shared the video, more than 1,000 people also shared it, many of them to groups that oppose mandatory vaccinations, according to an analysis by The Times. She did not respond to a request for comment.

By the evening of May 5, “Plandemic” had popped up on a large-scale political page on Facebook.

The page was for Reopen Alabama, which has over 36,000 members and was part of the movement by Americans who wanted to lift shelter-in-place orders. Once the video appeared on that page, which was linked to dozens of other Reopen America groups, it quickly began spreading to the pages of those other groups in a kind of forceful multiplier effect.

The Facebook user who posted “Plandemic” to the Reopen Alabama page did not respond to a request for comment.

I’ll stop to point out Alabama had one of the shortest, loosest, and earliest shut down restrictions and their Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed. Most Cities’ ICU Beds and Ventilators are 100% deployed, there are no reserves. Sucks to get sick, you’ll probably die.

That same night, Nick Catone, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, also shared “Plandemic” on his Facebook page. Mr. Catone, 38, with nearly 70,000 followers on Facebook, has been an anti-vaccine activist since the death of his nearly 2-year-old son in 2017. Mr. Catone, who did not respond to a request for comment, has publicly blamed vaccines for his son’s death.

More than 2,000 people quickly liked Mr. Catone’s post about “Plandemic,” which he exhorted people to watch before it was taken down. His post was one of the first by a public figure who had no special medical expertise.

Two days after “Plandemic” went online, it came to the attention of Melissa Ackison, who lost in the Republican primary for Ohio’s 26th District Senate seat last month.

On May 6, Ms. Ackison, 41, an anti-Obamacare campaigner, posted the video and told her 20,000 followers on Facebook, “If you watch ANYTHING on my page, it needs to be this.”

Her post spread the video to a broader political audience, which then shared it among conservative groups and other Republican campaign pages.

“I knew when I shared that video that people would watch,” Ms. Ackison said. “People know me as a person who is skeptical of what the mainstream media narrative is telling them.”

BuzzFeed wrote an article on May 7 about “Plandemic” and its falsehoods, in one of the first signs that the mainstream news media had noticed the video. The article was shared on 63 Facebook pages, including the page of Occupy Democrats, a popular left-wing group, according to The Times’s analysis.

“‘Plandemic’ is a part of a larger narrative of conspiracy theories and disinformation reporters have been highlighting since the pandemic began,” Jane Lytvynenko, who reported on the video for BuzzFeed, said in an email. “Its popularity shows how vital it is to keep reporting on false and misleading information and take online events as seriously as offline ones.”

After BuzzFeed published its piece, the tenor of comments and shares around “Plandemic” shifted. More people began to fact-check and debunk the video.

That same day, YouTube and Facebook removed “Plandemic” for violating their misinformation policies. By then, the video was fully in the mainstream.