Facebook Groups and YouTube Enabled Viral Spread of ‘Plandemic’ Misinformation

A social media researcher and multimedia artist shows how medical misinformation spreads so far, so fast

Network graph of 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts from April 8 to May 8, 2020. Images courtesy of author

A slick, professionally produced documentary featuring discredited virologist Judy Mikovits went viral last week. The plot of “Plandemic” is a convergence of various conspiracy theories, which is why it appealed to such a wide audience. I was curious about how the video spread so far, so fast. So I used data from the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle to create three kinds of data visualizations of how it went viral, using two different datasets for comparison.

CrowdTangle datasets

  • 37,274 public Facebook posts containing the keyword “Plandemic” from April 8 to May 8, 2020
  • 23,681 public Facebook posts containing “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020

Timelines

I made a timeline of the video’s spread using the sum of all interactions on Facebook posts containing the keyword “Plandemic.” Dates of posts are aggregated: Interactions on multiple posts on a single day are added together for a daily total of all interactions within the dataset on that day. This method produced charts that show the escalation very clearly.

I made a second timeline of interactions for 23,681 Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020. This chart includes 13,594 fewer posts, so the volume is lower, but the pattern is the same. These two timelines clearly show the viral event as it spread on Facebook.

Facebook reactions

These reaction charts include the sum of interactions from public Facebook posts containing the keyword “Plandemic” from April 8 to May 8, 2020. Interactions include likes, comments, shares, and all reactions.

Links to YouTube dominated this dataset, followed by links to other websites outside of Facebook. Several other video-hosting websites were also common such as Vimeo, BitChute, and a website called plandemicmovie.com—a domain that was registered on May 1, 2020, specifically for the Plandemic video release.

I made the same chart for reactions to 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020. There are fewer links in this second dataset (and fewer posts overall), but links out to YouTube again dominated the dataset.

Network graphs

I made a network graph of 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts containing URLs from April 8 to May 8, 2020. The larger, visible labels are highly active Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members. These Facebook groups are the central hubs in the network. The graph contains links to YouTube and links to other websites outside of Facebook, but links to YouTube are the most common URLs.

Link map for 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

Below is a closeup of the central nodes in this network that had a lot of activity during the timeframe the data was collected.

Link map for 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

Below is the core of the network. I filtered out all nodes with less than 50 edges or incoming links. QAnon, anti-vax, and general conspiracy themed Facebook groups were the most active hubs on Facebook.

Link map for 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts from April 8 to May 8, 2020 — filtered by degree 50.

Below is a closeup of one of the central nodes: a highly active QAnon group with 125,448 members. The Facebook groups are the prominent nodes and the edges are links that were shared to the groups by members, admins, and moderators. Many of these YouTube links are videos that have already been taken down.

Link map for 37,275 public “Plandemic” Facebook posts from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

Here’s a list of the large nodes in the graph above, noting the Facebook group name and the number of members in the group:

  • Chemtrails Global Skywatch — 181,194
  • OFFICIAL Q / QANON — 125,448
  • Drain The Swamp — 73,594
  • X22Report[Geopolitical] — 57,377
  • The Official Rush Limbaugh Facebook Group — 49697
  • Collective Action Against Bill Gates. We Won't Be Vaccinated!! — 47,900
  • 99% unite Main Group “it’s us or them” — 32,052
  • QAnon -Posts by Q — 31,039
  • >> Fall of the Cabal << — 30,153
  • FOX NEWS with Tucker Carlson — 26,052
  • WWG1WGA…Q — 24,704
  • QTheGreatestStoryEverTold — 22,537
  • X22 Report [Financial] — 20,646
  • The Great Awakening — 17,762
  • REOPEN NJ — 16,589

And finally, I made the same network graph for the links included in 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020. The resulting network graph for the second dataset was very similar to the first, dominated by public Facebook groups with large membership numbers and YouTube links.

Link map for 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

Below is a close-up of the above link map for 23,681 “Judy Mikovits” posts. The same Facebook groups dominate this second dataset.

Link map for 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020.
Link map for 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

The one difference in the “Judy Mikovits” link map is a new cluster that was not present in the “Plandemic” graph. The orange disconnected cluster in the bottom right quadrant is a community of Spanish language conspiracy Facebook groups.

Link map for 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

This community is small, disconnected from the main network, and it was not very influential. But the Plandemic video also spread in some Spanish language networks.

Closeup of Spanish language conspiracy Facebook groups.

I suspect many people are looking for explanations as to how this video went so incredibly viral, so quickly, and I think these visualizations help to illustrate what happened. The video spread from YouTube to Facebook thanks to highly active QAnon and conspiracy-related Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members, which caused a massive cascade. Both platforms were instrumental in spreading viral medical misinformation.

Link map for 23,681 public Facebook posts containing the query “Judy Mikovits” from April 8 to May 8, 2020 — filtered by degree 25.

Gephi graphs in this blog were created using OpenOrd combined with Force Atlas 2 layout algorithms.

CrowdTangle data used to make these data visualizations only includes public Facebook posts, it does not include posts made in private Facebook groups.

Social media researcher, multimedia artist

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