The Pernicious Staying Power of COVID-19’s First Viral Disinformation Campaign
The ripple effects of 'Plandemic' linger
On a Monday in May, a now-infamous video titled "Plandemic" started to spread on social media. In a matter of days, millions of people had seen it. Media outlets devoted breathless attention to the conspiracy-laden film and its anti-mask, anti-vaccine, and anti-government agenda. It was not the first piece of disinformation about COVID-19, but it was perhaps the most potent.
It also struck at just the right time. It was two months into the pandemic, and little was known yet about the virus. Americans were captive in their homes, searching the web for answers about a deadly disease. "Plandemic" offered a definitive storyline about COVID-19, when public health officials had unsatisfactory answers. The film took the opportunity to sow doubt in crucial figures such as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Anthony Fauci and call into question mask wearing—one of the few available tools at the time to combat the spread of COVID-19. It was the best attempt yet to undo critical public health efforts underway and make Americans question government leadership.
"Plandemic" was the first big wave in a rising tide of unquellable disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19. By the time the internet platforms we rely on to curate the web suppressed the video, it was already too late. It had reached nearly 10 million people across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook by some estimates. In subsequent months, these platforms vowed to combat all misinformation about COVID-19. But they have failed at every turn.
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