How the ‘Plandemic’ Movie and Its Falsehoods Spread Widely Online

Conspiracy theories about the pandemic have gained more traction than mainstream Falsehoods Spread online events. Here’s how.There have been plenty of jaw-dropping digital moments during the coronavirus pandemic.

There was the time this month when Taylor Swift announced she would air her “City of Lover” concert on television. The time that the cast of “The Office”reunited for an 18-minute-long Zoom wedding. And the time last month that the Pentagon posted three videos that showed unexplained “aerial phenomena.”

Yet none of those went as viral as a 26-minute video called “Plandemic,” a slickly produced narration that wrongly claimed a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power. The video featured a discredited scientist, Judy Mikovits, who said her research about the harm from vaccines had been buried.

“Plandemic” went online on May 4 when its maker, Mikki Willis, a little-known film producer, posted it to Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and a separate website set up to share the video. For three days, it gathered steam in Facebook pages dedicated to conspiracy theories and the anti-vaccine movement, most of which linked to the video hosted on YouTube. Then it tipped into the mainstream and exploded.

Just over a week after “Plandemic” was released, it had been viewed more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and had generated countless other posts.

The New York Times focused on the video’s spread on Facebook using data from CrowdTangle, a tool to analyze interactions across the social network. (YouTube and Twitter do not make their data as readily available.) The ascent of “Plandemic” was largely powered by Facebook groups and pages that shared the YouTube link.

On Facebook, “Plandemic” was liked, commented on or shared nearly 2.5 million times, according to the CrowdTangle data. That far outdid Ms. Swift’s May 8 announcement about her Falsehoods Spread “City of Lover” concert, which plateaued at about 110,000 such interactions on Facebook. “The Office” cast’s Zoom wedding video, which was posted on May 10, reached 618,000 interactions in less than a week. And the Pentagon’s videos, which were posted on April 27, had one million interactions two weeks after the first post.

“Plandemic” stormed into people’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feeds even though its claims were widely debunked and the social media companies vowed to remove the video. Yet it has continued spreading online, raising questions about how it might damage trust in the medical community and color people’s views on a coronavirus vaccine.

Mr. Willis, who has said he plans to release a second video, did not respond to a request for comment.

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