May 12, 2020 - Economy

The coronavirus conspiracy news cycle

The coronavirus conspiracy news cycle has grown more powerful off of audiences that were already susceptible to misinformation about other health care myths, like anti-vaccination conspiracies.

Data: Zignal; Chart: Axios Visuals. NOTE: This does not include mentions of "disinfectant," which is disproportionately much more viral than all of the select conspiracy theories combined. We removed it from this chart to show you the smaller theories at scale.

Driving the news: The latest conspiracy theory — that the virus is a "plandemic" engineered to increase vaccination rates — stems from a documentary-style video featuring a discredited medical researcher that has gone viral.

  • The video, which continues to be taken down by social media sites, features former researcher and activist Judy Mikovits issuing misinformation like that wearing masks is harmful and that Dr. Anthony Fauci directed a cover-up about the origin of the disease.
  • The video has gone viral on social platforms, even though most of the big sites, like Facebook and YouTube, have yanked it from their platforms.

Flashback: Mentions of “Plandemic” were fairly low in March and early April, and were really only picked up a handful of times in conversations that also referenced other conspiracy theories, like anti-vaccination conspiracies.

  • Although the Mikovits video began to experience an uptick in uploads in April, the "plandemic" conspiracy theory really began to take off in May, after an interview with Mikovits was posted to YouTube and other sites from an America's Voice News, according to Zignal Labs.

Yes, but: The media can make these things appear worse than reality.

  • When you look at the data, the "plandemic" conspiracy theory is small in its online spread in comparison to the Bill Gates conspiracy theory and the disinfectant conspiracy theory, which is so huge we had to exclude it from this chart.

As tech platforms race to stop certain theories from spreading, others are already beginning to take hold.

  • At first, the biggest conspiracy theories around the virus revolved around debunked cures, like hydrochloric acid or alcohol as a cure.
  • Then, Trump's disinfectant comments spiked massively, in large part because it's so obviously nonsensical that it quickly became an internet meme after President Trump suggested it could be used as a cure for coronavirus.
  • Now, the "plandemic" conspiracy has begun to take hold, especially as its supporters begin to cry foul that major tech platforms are removing videos pertaining to the debunked Mikovits video.

The big picture: The most effective misinformation plays into existing fears, especially around health, safety and well-being. This is in part due to the fact that there's already so much uncertainty about causes and cures for new and existing diseases.

  • It's for this reason that U.S. adversaries, particularly Russia, often take advantage of real-world health crises to sow discord among Americans — it's a topic in which people are easily divided and duped.

The bottom line: The "plandemic" conspiracy theory is the latest in a series of myths around the virus that will spread quickly, before big web platforms take notice and users and bad actors move to another falsehood.

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