On 4 May, a 26-minute video called ‘Plandemic’, centred around the COVID-19 pandemic, went online and entered its journey to social media virality.
Uploaded on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and a website set up for the purpose of sharing the video, the polished, professional-looking ‘Plandemic’, featuring a scientist by the name of Judy Mikovits and created by filmmaker Mikki Willis (who doubles as the interviewer) soon made its way to the attention of mainstream media, after having completed its sojourn of conspiracy theory groups.
An analysis of the video by The New York Times shows its trudge from a niche conspiracy theory video to a “mainstream phenomenon” started from Facebook groups, from where it went on to get endorsement from a celebrity doctor, a prominent MMA fighter, a US politician and finally, the attention of a well-known publication.
The video has now been taken down by Facebook, YouTube and video-sharing platform Vimeo for violating their misinformation policy.
Though we could not find clips of the video on these social media platforms, the full length video is still being copied and shared online on fringe video sharing websites, the links to which are travelling through WhatsApp.
Peddling Multiple Conspiracy Theories
Shot in a documentary format, with a well-spoken, calm interviewee in Mikovits and tempered questions from Willis, the video, which is supposed to be a teaser for a full-length documentary coming up later in summer, comes across to a viewer as legitimate and highly believable.
But really, it’s not. From the oft-repeated lab theory about coronavirus to warnings about vaccines and the usage of masks, the film compiles a handful of conspiracy theories and presents them to a viewer as an argument which shows that the coronavirus pandemic has deep, sinister roots.
We’ll break it down here.
CLAIMS BY JUDY MIKOVITS
The video opens with a voiceover which claims that Dr Judy Mikovits "has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation.” The narrator further goes on to say that she published a “blockbuster article in the journal Science” which “sent shock waves through the scientific community.”
This in itself is a tall claim to make, since reports state that Mikovits’ only claim to fame as a scientist is a paper published in 2009 in the prestigious journal Science that she had co-authored with 12 others, which claimed that chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was caused by xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV).
However, parts of that paper soon had to be retracted by the authors after questions were raised on their findings. Eventually, in 2011, the paper in its entirety was retracted by Science after follow-up studies failed to reproduce the results and it was ruled a result of contaminated lab samples. According to reports, Mikovits herself also agreed later that there was no evidence that XMRV was a human pathogen.
Later the same year, Mikovits was fired from her position as research director of Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) in Reno, Nevada, after a clash with the institute’s president and co-founder, Annette Whittemore.
This was followed by more controversy as the institute filed a complaint against her for stealing laboratory notebooks which did not belong to her after her termination, which was confirmed by a signed affidavit by another co-worker.
This led to her being in prison for five days, and according to reports, she was charged with “possession of stolen property and unlawful taking of computer data, equipment, supplies or other computer-related property.”
The criminal charges were later dropped but the institute won a civil defamation suit against her demanding the return of the property, according to reports.
But, in the video, Mikovits says that there were no charges against her and that the property which was stolen had been planted in her house.
Dr Mikovits’ credentials as a legitimate expert are, at best, debatable. The New York Times even goes so far as to call her a “discredited scientist” and while she has co-authored two books, she has not published anything amounting to scientific literature since 2012.
Mikovits makes several wildly unsubstantiated claims in the video about Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, having directed a cover-up (of which no details are presented, just that Dr Fauci was at the helm of it all) and that he held up publication of a paper that she had written on HIV which led to another person taking credit for it, while lives were lost in the intervening period. Neither of these claims are true, according to Science.
In another allegation against Dr Fauci, Mikovits claims that he and Robert Redfield, the current director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention colluded to manipulate research on HIV in a different direction and made millions out of the patents involved, which also resulted in the deaths of millions of people.
But, according to an article in the prestigious British Medical Journal, as a government employee, Dr Fauci was “required by law to put his name on the patent for the development of interleukin 2 and was also required by law to receive part of the payment the government received for use of the patent”.
The article also quotes him as saying that he felt it was inappropriate to receive payment and therefore donated the money to charity.
Mikovits also says at one point that if vaccines are made mandatory, millions of people will die. She also adds that there is no vaccine available for any RNA virus that works. Interestingly enough, after that, she also tells the interviewer that she is not anti-vaccine, because her “job is to develop immune therapies.”
While her statement about vaccines killing millions is obviously incorrect, since vaccines actually save lives and credible reports say that many vaccines that work against RNA viruses are freely available for usage, her statement that she is not anti-vaccine is strange in this backdrop. Moreover, reports says that she has made anti-vaccine statements and often repeats claims made by anti-vaxxers.
Further, in answer to a question from Willis about whether this virus was created in the laboratory, she circles around and eventually ends up saying that while it wasn’t created, it was manipulated and studied in a laboratory, from where it was released. She even points fingers at some labs, including the oft-blamed Wuhan Laboratory.
This, again, is not true. A popular conspiracy theory since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, scientists across the world have repeatedly debunked the lab theory explaining the origin of coronavirus, arguing that it is a naturally occurring virus of animal origin, which jumped from its animal host to humans at China’s wet markets. The World Health Organisation has said this and so have many other scientific publications.
Lastly, Mikovits states that wearing a mask “activates your own virus” because “you’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions”.
CLIP OF DISCREDITED DOCTORS
This anti-mask theory is also peddled through a clip of a doctor used in the video. Dr Erickson argues against wearing a mask, pointing out that he and his partner are not wearing one because they understand biology. He also goes on to state that the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders will actually lead to people’s immunity dropping, thus making an argument to open up society.
Dr Erickson, along with Dr Artin Messihi, with who he co-owns a chain of local urgent care clinics in California, went viral for a news conference some time ago, in which they stated that their studies had shown that coronavirus was similar to influenza, that the situation was less serious than it seemed and society should be reopened.
The doctors also got a signal-boost from Elon Musk, who had been eager to reopen his car manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. The Tesla founder praised the doctors in a tweet to his 33 million-plus Twitter followers.
However, according to multiple reports, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine have both come out to rebut the statements made by these doctors, assuring that the coronavirus crisis is real.
“Members of ACEP and AAEM are first-hand witnesses to the human toll that COVID-19 is taking on our communities. ACEP and AAEM strongly advise against using any statements of Drs. Erickson and Messihi as a basis for policy and decision making,” the statement said.
The doctors have been widely discredited for their statements from the medical community. By now, it’s pretty clear that the video bases itself on a number of conspiracy theories, a handful of unsubstantiated claims and many allegations.
Race to Shut Down the Video
Since the video exploded on social media and started spreading like wildfire, social media platforms have been trying to stay ahead of the game and take down the video from all platforms in accordance with their guidelines.
According to the MIT Technology Review, Facebook told reporters that the documentary violated its policies for propagating the potentially harmful claim that “wearing a mask can make you ill”.
It was also taken down from YouTube, but not before it collected millions of views as people took to Facebook to share the YouTube link of the 26-minute video. However, supporters of the film and its theories took to Twitter with claims that they were being unfairly censored, which led to #PlandemicDocumentary even trending on the social media platform.
“We quickly remove flagged content that violates our Community Guidelines, including content that includes medically unsubstantiated diagnostic advice for COVID-19,” a YouTube spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, which was the first mainstream media outlet to report on the video.
Vimeo, which also hosted copies of the video, took it down on 7 May, just days after its release, saying that it violated their policy of keeping the platform “safe from content that spreads harmful and misleading health information”.
According to Digital Trends, clips of 'Plandemic’ have been shared all over Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, as well as by influencers with six-digit follower counts, gathering millions of views.
CNBC reported that Twitter said it has blocked the hashtags ”#PlagueofCorruption” and #PlandemicMovie” from trends and search.
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