If you’ve got corona-rattled relatives who spend too much time on Facebook, you’ve probably gotten asked about “Plandemic.” It’s the hot new viral video in conspiracy theory circles, supposedly blowing the lid off the “real story” of how COVID-19 was engineered by government scientists as a weapon against the useless eaters, with one of these former “government scientists” revealing everything that “they” don’t want you to know about coronavirus, diseases in general, and secret cures.
It’s slick enough to be watched by people who don’t watch YouTube videos, short enough to be digested in one sitting, and authoritative enough to seem true because it’s got a real, actual research scientist doing most of the talking, former HIV researcher turned anti-vaccine crank Judy Mikovits.
So naturally, it’s exploded in popularity. The 26 minute film (which is supposedly just a taster for a full length version to come) has become the “Loose Change” of the rona truther movement, but at warp speed. It’s gotten millions of views over multiple platforms, and has been pulled down by several – prompting misguided cries of “censorship,” which a private company enforcing its terms of service isn’t.
“Plandemic” has been written about by every outlet under the sun, and is driving the corona-related conversation at an astonishing rate with accusations that the virus was man-made, that the CDC is mandating treatments that kill patients, that doctors are being forced to call every death they come across a COVID casualty to pump up the death count, that the AMA is punishing doctors who prescribe so-called “miracle cure” chloroquine because drug companies can’t make money off it, and on and on.
I’ve written a lot about coronavirus conspiracy theories. I started well before the virus reached the US, writing about dueling corona Reddit subs and the early churn of conspiracy theories blaming Bill Gates. Coronavirus is the biggest generator of conspiracy theories since at least the 2016 election, and maybe the 9/11 attacks. For people like me, it’s a firehose of material to debunk. So this is my take on “Plandemic:”
I haven’t watched it, and I don’t plan on watching it, because it’s garbage. It’s harmful, ignorant, paranoid, brimming with logical fallacies, and rabidly anti-science and pro-fearmongering.
“But Rothschild,” a thousand reply guy trolls blasted into Twitter, “how can you know it’s garbage if you don’t watch it? Scared you might learn something?”
I don’t have to watch “Plandemic” to know “Plandemic” is bad. Just like I don’t have to have had cancer to know having cancer is bad, and I don’t have to have drank bleach to know drinking bleach is bad. There are plenty of reasons not to watch a conspiracy theory movie on YouTube, and “Plandemic’s” popularity and current ascendance in the zeitgeist don’t change them.
1. I trust the people who debunked it. It’s rare when pretty much all the best anti-disinformation writers and researchers immediately pounce on the same thing, but that’s what’s happened with “Plandemic,” almost as soon as it hit YouTube. Really good people in science, medicine, and journalism converged, bringing body blow after body blow to the film’s science and to the veracity of the people who made it.
Dr. David Gorski, a skeptic and physician who has risked his career and inflamed some of the most dangerous anti-vaccine activists in the country with his work, wrote a buzzsaw of a debunking calling the movie the work of a conspiracy-mongering crank who thinks sand has healing properties and that the normal flu vaccine is actually cultured from dog cells. Science journalist Tara Haelle took a similar blowtorch to the movie in Forbes, focusing on its use of the tried and true conspiracy theorist technique the Gish Gallop to deluge the viewer in bullshit facts that come so hard and fast that it’s impossible to debunk them all. Here’s Anna Merlan in Vice asking hard questions about Mikovits’ credentials and struggles with basic science. A sentence-by-sentence takedown of the film’s claims? We’ve got that, too. And we have Snopes fact checking the basics of both the film and Mikovits’ claims that she was “arrested without a warrant and held without charges” for daring to question Tony Fauci’s work. Scott Neuman for NPR, Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins for NBC, and on and on.
There’s more debunking and criticism coming by the day, in articles, videos, Twitter threads, and memes. These are good writers for trusted outlets whose work I trust, and it’s excellent in each case. I don’t need to “do my research” on this, because I respect and trust the people who already did. And they have my thanks for taking on this onerous task.
2. I don’t trust the people who made it. As much as I trust the work of the above writers, I don’t have any faith in the people who made “Plandemic.” Judy Mikovits co-authored a paper that blamed mouse retrovirus for chronic fatigue syndrome, only to see it retracted. Far from being “arrested without a warrant,” she was actually arrested and fired from her researcher position for stealing laboratory materials. With her career in ruins she pivoted to the lucrative market for anti-vaccine hysteria and crank pseudoscience, and has since found far more fame than she ever would have as anonymous researcher trying to make the world a better place.
I should trust this person’s totally out there, totally un-evidenced, totally un-reproducible theories about coronavirus being created by the government out of dog cells, pumped up by big pharma and the media, and healed by sand? No, I should’t. Nobody should.
Beyond that, data makes it clear that QAnon Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of members are relentlessly pushing the video, and Mikovits has appeared on far right media channels like Epoch Times pushing her conspiracy theories. All of these are bad actors who push terrible information onto gullible minds. If these outlets told me the sun was shining, I’d bring a raincoat. Ultimately, the agenda behind this is obvious: make people afraid of something, and sell them the remedy. In this case, the remedy is Mikovits’ book (which shot to the top of Amazon) and the full length “Plandemic” video, which probably will be able to crowdfund a huge amount of money off this success.
3. The conspiracy theories are the same as everything else. Here’s the promotional blurb from “Plandemic,” and it reads like a coronavirus greatest hits: “Humanity is imprisoned by a killer pandemic. People are being arrested for surfing in the ocean and meditating in nature. Nations are collapsing. Hungry citizens are rioting for food. The media has generated so much confusion and fear that people are begging for salvation in a syringe. Billionaire patent owners are pushing for globally mandated vaccines. Anyone who refuses to be injected with experimental poisons will be prohibited from travel, education and work. No, this is not a synopsis for a new horror movie. This is our current reality.”
This is standard coronavirus fearmongering, and sounds like everything I’ve already spent two months writing about. I don’t need to go down these rabbit holes again. As Gorski writes, “Basically, all the common conspiracy theories about COVID-19 make an appearance,” in the film. There are a few new wrinkles, such as the dog cell stuff, which is nonsense; and a whole lot of grievance by Mikovits against people who have wronged her. The first part of the film is almost entirely about her, and not about coronavirus. And frankly, I don’t care about her enough to watch her complain about whatever she thinks “they” did to her.
Again, I don’t have to watch this to know I don’t need to watch this. I’ve been watching it since January, and I’ll keep watching it as long as the pandemic goes on. Ultimately, this movie is one grain of sand on a huge beach.
4. There will be another movie and another. Conspiracy theory movies on YouTube are their own genre. And before YouTube, there were conspiracy theory movies on DVD, VHS, 35mm, and probably etched into stone. There was “Loose Change” and “Zeitgeist” and “Waco: The Big Lie” and “Dreams From My Real Father” and “2016: Obama’s America” and everything Alex Jones produced.
There’s more conspiracy content to watch every day, in livestreams and cheap straight-to-camera rambles and slick short videos. This one is more authoritative and better produced, but it’s not a new genre. Far from it. Just before “Plandemic” went viral, there was another big movie in conspiracy circles, the 77-minute QAnon propaganda piece “Out of Shadows.” I didn’t watch that either, since I’ve been writing about QAnon for two years and know it inside and out. Why would I need to?
So something else will come along and displace “Plandemic” as the conspiracy movie “you have to see.” Someone is probably hard at work on it right now. And it’ll suck just as much.
5. The logical fallacies and propaganda are obvious. It’s clear what Mikovits and her collaborators are doing. They’re using her education and experience as an appeal to authority to mask her terrible ideas and harmful views against vaccines. They’re using the appeal to fear by trying to make us all scared to death of a potential vaccine, so we don’t take it. And as above, they’re using the Gish Gallop to deluge viewers with bad ideas, substituting quantity for quality.
The extant pieces taking “Plandemic” apart point this out again and again. Once you see the fallacies at work, it’s all you see.
The whole thing is a grift and a scam and an appeal to the worst fears and instincts that conspiracy theories stoke in us. I’m eternally grateful to the people who already debunked this garbage, and I have no need to do it myself just to satisfy the demands of conspiracy theorists shrieking “do your research.” I already did, and this is the conclusion it pointed me toward.
Use the 30 minutes you’d spend on “Plandemic” doing something good for yourself or someone else. You can thank me later.
Enjoyment and Edification
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