CHICAGO – One by one, tech companies across Silicon Valley scrambled to take down a slickly produced video of a discredited researcher peddling a variety of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
It was all too late. The 26-minute documentary-style video dubbed “Plandemic,” in which anti-vaccine activist Judy Mikovits promotes a string of questionable, false and potentially dangerous coronavirus theories, had already racked up millions of views over several days and gained a massive audience in Facebook groups that oppose vaccines or are protesting governors' stay-at-home orders.
Mikovits' unsupported claims – that the virus was manufactured in a lab, that it's injected into people via flu vaccinations and that wearing a mask could trigger a coronavirus infection – activated a social media army already skeptical of the pandemic's threat.
People shared the video again and again on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram until it took on a life of its own even after the original was taken down.
“Once it's available, it has an infinite lifespan,” said Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media at Carnegie Mellon University.
Mikovits' sudden fandom and notoriety come nearly a decade after she pushed a discredited theory that a virus in mice known as XMRV causes chronic fatigue syndrome. She was later fired from a medical institute.
Efforts by social media platforms to delete and ban “Plandemic” have given rise to further dubious claims and theories about a supposed cover-up by tech companies regarding how the coronavirus started and is spread.
“It sort of increases its fandom or allegiance among followers and adds credence to their rallying cry that there's a conspiracy theory out there that people are trying to shut down,” Lightman said.