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Platforms scramble as ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video spreads misinformation like wildfire

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A coronavirus conspiracy video featuring a well-known vaccine conspiracist is spreading like wildfire on social media this week, even as platforms talk tough about misinformation in the midst of the pandemic.

In the professionally-produced video, a solemn interviewer named Mikki Willis interviews Judy Mikovits, a figure best known for her anti-vaccine activism in recent years. The video touches on a number of topics favored among online conspiracists at the moment, filtering most of them through the lens that vaccines are a money-making enterprise that causes medical harm.

The video took off mid-week after first being posted to Vimeo and YouTube on May 4. From those sites, it traveled to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where it circulated much more widely, racking up millions of views. Finding the video is currently trivial across social platforms, where it’s been reposted widely, sometimes with its title removed or reworded to make it more difficult to detect by AI moderation.

According to Twitter, tweets by Mikovits apparently don’t violate the platform’s rules around COVID-19 misinformation, but it has marked the video’s URL as “unsafe” and blocked the related hashtags “#PlagueOfCorruption and #Plandemicmovie. The company also hasn’t found evidence that her account is being amplified as part of a coordinated campaign.

Over on Facebook, the video indeed runs afoul of the platform’s coronavirus and health misinformation rules—but it’s still very easy to find. For this story, I was able to locate a copy of the full video within seconds and at the time of writing Instagram’s #plandemic hashtag was well-populated with long clips from the video and even suggestions for related hashtags like #coronahoax. Facebook is currently working to stem the video’s spread, but it’s already collected millions of views in a short time.

On YouTube, a search for “Plandemic” mostly pulls up content debunking the video’s many false claims, but plenty of clips from the video itself still make the first wave of search results.

The video itself is a hodgepodge of popular false COVID-10 conspiracies already circulating online, scientifically unsound anti-vaccine talking points and claims of persecution.

Mikovits, who in the video states that she’s not opposed to vaccines, later goes on to make the claim that vaccines have killed millions of people. “The game is to prevent the therapies ‘til everyone is infected and push the vaccines, knowing that the flu vaccines increase the odds… of getting COVID-19,” Mikovits says, conspiratorially. At the same time, she suggests that doctors and health facilities are incentivized to overcount COVID-19 cases for the medicare payouts, an assertion that contradicts the expert consensus that coronavirus cases are likely still being meaningfully undercounted.

In the video, Mikovits accuses Dr. Anthony Fauci of suppressing treatments like hydroxychloroquine—falsely touted by President Trump as a likely cure for the virus. While her claims appear to have landed at the perfect opportunistic moment, her beef with Fauci is actually longstanding. As Buzzfeed reported, in a book she wrote six years ago, Mikovits accused Dr. Fauci of banning her from the NIH’s facilities—an event Fauci himself was not familiar with.

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Mikovits also touches on a popular web of conspiracy theories fixated on the idea Bill Gates is somehow implicated in causing the pandemic to profit off the eventual vaccine and makes the unfounded claim that “it’s very clear this virus was manipulated and studied in the laboratory.”

In other interviews, Mikovits has suggested that face masks pose a danger because they can “activate” the virus in the wearer. In the “Plandemic” clip, Mikovits also makes the unscientific claim that beaches should not have been closed due to “healing microbes in the saltwater” and “sequences” in the sand that protect against the coronavirus.

To the uninformed viewer, Mikovits might appear to ably address scientific-sounding topics, but her own scientific credentials are extremely dubious. In 2009, Mikovits authored a study on chronic fatigue syndrome that was retracted by the journal Science two years later when an audit found “evidence of poor quality control” in the experiment and the results could not be replicated in subsequent studies. That event and her subsequent firing from a research institute appear to have kicked off her more recent turn as an anti-vaccine crusader, conspiracist and author.

With “Plandemic,” Mikovits seems to have positioned herself successfully for relevance in the pandemic’s information vacuum—her book sales have even soared on Amazon. Toward the end of the clip, her interviewer even cannily sets up a future outrage cycle at the inevitable crackdown from social media platforms, where the video flouts rules ostensibly banning harmful health conspiracies like the ones it contains.

“It’s other people shutting down other citizens and the big tech platforms follow suit and they shut everything down,” Willis says with steely concern. “There is no dissenting voices allowed any more in this free country.” 

As we’ve reported previously, the coronavirus crisis is fertile ground for conspiracy theories and potentially lethal misinformation— a fact that the “Plandemic” video’s apparent mainstream crossover success demonstrates. Widespread uncertainty and fear is a powerful thing, capable of breathing new life into debunked ideas that would have otherwise kept collecting dust in conspiracist backwaters, where they belong.

TechCrunch

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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