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Daily Beast - May 12, 2020

"During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, truthersspread new conspiracy theories, accusing Germans of deliberately spreading the virus in rival countries. Even the disease’s name was a blame game. The Spanish Flu likely originated in the U.S., and other countries adopted new names for it in keeping with their rivals (Italy called it the “German Disease,” Germany called it the “Russian Plague,” and so on)."

Ann-Marie has long enjoyed researching what believers might call alternative health theories. She is well-versed in articles tied to the anti-vaccination movement, and was interested in conspiracy theories about cancer and AIDS. But it wasn’t until COVID-19 became widespread in the United States that she came into contact with the wildest conspiracy theory of the Trump era.

“If it wasn’t for COVID19, I would have been just continuing to tell my kids about the ‘stuff’ I was finding and wouldn’t have found out about QAnon,” the Pennsylvania resident, who declined to give her last name because she didn’t want her identity “out there,” told The Daily Beast.

From virtually the moment COVID-19 came onto the scene late last year, conspiracy theories about the disastrous illness have also gone viral. COVID truthers pushed hoaxes claiming Bill Gates was behind the illness, and that a future vaccine would actually be part of a secret microchipping plot.

But “Plandemic,” a debunked, documentary-style video, exploded in popularity shortly after its release this month, becoming nearly unavoidable on Facebook—at least until the platform took steps to remove it. The video, and others in its genre, first found popularity through a network of fringe social-media groups that promote ideas like QAnon, the bizarre conspiracy that accuses President Donald Trump’s foes of Satanic pedophilia and/or cannibalism. 

Grotesquely weird conspiracy theories like QAnon are probably off-putting to most people who stumble upon them. But the newly popular “Plandemic”-style videos are minting a new set of conspiracy-curious Americans amid the despair of coronavirus isolation, easing them into contact with the worst of the web.

“Plandemic,” an error-ridden video starring oft-debunked scientist Dr. Judy Mikovits, racked up millions of views before it was banned by platforms like Facebook and YouTube earlier this month. (“Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could lead to imminent harm, so we’re removing the video,” Facebook previously said in a statement.)  But the bans are only partially effective. A cursory search on Monday turned up live links all over Facebook, and the video’s sudden surge to virality came thanks in part to a network of existing conspiracy pages. 

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Across several days in early May, links to the “Plandemic” video soared in large Facebook groups tied to QAnon, as well as pages that promoted conspiracy theories about chemtrails, lizard people, and vaccines, according to data published by Erin Gallagher, an independent researcher focusing on social media patterns. Some right-wing pages, like Facebook groups for fans of Fox News host Tucker Carlson and talk radio star Rush Limbaugh, were also major hubs for the video.

“The central hubs were Qanon, antivax, general conspiracy groups,” Gallagher told The Daily Beast. “There is really a hodgepodge of all kinds of groups: antivax, 5G truthers, new age, flat earth, general pro-Trump groups, several of the ‘reopen’ Facebook groups, White rabbit/Qanon, and conronavirus-related groups. It's really a wide spectrum of truther-type Facebook groups, that are all 1 degree of separation away from each other.”

High on traffic from these Facebook groups (several with more than 100,000 members), the video spread across the web, maybe landing on your own page via a former classmate or a relative you forgot you added. ...
Read full report at Daily Beast