Like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or Legally Blonde, the sequel to the viral conspiracy theory video “Plandemic” faced a tall order when it was released on Tuesday: how to extend a thin fictional narrative that found an unexpectedly large audience into a durable franchise.
Over four months after the release of the first iteration, the inevitable, bloated sequel, Plandemic: Indoctornation, has arrived today. By some estimates, the original “Plandemic” was seen by 8 million people around the world. The punningly titled sequel was a flop.
As a piece of journalism, it is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. As a piece of entertainment, it is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
The first “Plandemic” video was published in May and spread across the internet at an alarming rate, feeding anxiety about the novel coronavirus with intimations of vast conspiracies and easily disproved falsehoods. Featuring Judy Mikovits, who was fired from her job and whose findings about chronic fatigue syndrome were retracted, it falsely says that masks can make wearers sick, that sand can cure the coronavirus, and that autism can be tied to vaccines.
Those false claims may seem outlandish, but they’ve caused real harm. “Plandemic” is still available online and other videos with similar false information have gone viral since, even as the death toll tops 171,000. Similar claims have been amplified by major figures. President Donald Trump has claimed “masks cause problems too,” while Mikovits has become “a darling of far-right publications.”
But neither Mikovits, who made a cameo, nor brevity are featured in the much-hyped sequel from filmmaker Miki Willis. For an hour and 20 minutes, viewers are bombarded with tangents about patent law, online fact-checking, the CIA, Google search results, John Oliver, climate change, vaccines, and Bill Gates — none of which even rises to the level of just asking questions here.
Indoctornation consistently fails to complete its thoughts. For example, the video discusses what it claims are thousands of patents filed on coronavirus research, eliding the basic fact that there are many different types of coronaviruses, of which SARS-CoV-2 is only one. A segment about corruption in the mainstream media is followed by one that uncritically cites reporting in the mainstream media. And a segment that darkly suggests that public health officials had done emergency planning to prepare for pandemics makes public health officials look competent, not evil.
Unlike its predecessor, the sequel has no main character or plot. But it does have a villain: Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has been the subject of false conspiracies since the pandemic started. Just like the Emperor returning in The Rise of Skywalker, Plandemic: Indoctornation leans on old, familiar characters instead of inventing new ones.
“I want to believe his heart is as warm as his sweaters,” the narrator says about Gates in the video’s only good line. “At the very least I want to believe he’s unaware of the damage he’s done.” That damage, Indoctornation falsely claims, includes trying to microchip the human population (nope) to trying to block out the sun (not quite).
Despite its worn-out claims, Indoctornation does provide a test of a different kind. By telegraphing its release early, the video’s promoters all but dared the social media sites that had mishandled the first “Plandemic” video to prevent the sequel from spreading. By the eve of the video’s release, its debut announcements were shared, liked, and commented on tens of thousands of times across Facebook and Instagram.
“Given the previous ‘Plandemic’ video violated our COVID misinformation policies, we blocked access to that domain from our services,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “This latest video contains COVID-19 claims that our fact-checking partners have repeatedly rated false so we have reduced its distribution and added a warning label showing their findings to anyone who sees it.”
Announcing that their misinformation was going to come ahead of time seems not to have paid off. Facebook began to block the video’s URL while its “world premiere” was still ongoing. People on the social media platform were unable to post the link publicly or via messaging apps, though it could still be sent on WhatsApp. Twitter included a warning to anyone who clicked and YouTube has been monitoring the situation and been removing copies throughout the day, according to a spokesperson.
And the fact-checking apparatus that Indoctornation slams rebutted its claims, posting about it live, and giving it a near-unanimous review: boring.
As of Tuesday evening, the site that hosted the video crowed about its success, claiming that 1.2 million people watched the livestream, a number that could not be independently verified. (When the stream started there were 13,000 visitors according to an Instagram post.)
What could be verified, however, were the technical difficulties that bested them. At the time the video was set to air, the promoters claimed that a distributed denial of service attack prevented them from uploading it, delaying the premiere by 45 minutes.
“Experiencing MAJOR Brute Force Denial of Service Attacks HERE Before the World Premiere of [email protected]… But this AIN’T Our First Rodeo Kids…We Got This,” an Instagram post said. The programming code included in the posts purported to show five visitors per second, a volume that almost all websites are able to handle with ease.