COVID-19 conspiracy theorists continue to be deplatformed from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter — and rightly so.
Apart from conservatives casting doubt on the deadly measures that caused the deaths of numerous elderly people in the Democratic bastions of New York City and New Jersey, a significant number of conspiracy theorists have forwarded harmful advice to an audience of millions, urging viewers to stop practicing basic hygiene and turning to snake-oil treatments for the novel coronavirus.
Following their bans on YouTube and other popular platforms, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists have found a new home on TikTok. Used primarily by zoomers, TikTok has become the de facto replacement for Vine as young people with ambitions of viral popularity express their creativity in 30-second clips.
Data compiled by the fact-checking organization First Draft shows that videos spreading misinformation about the virus have surged on the Chinese-owned video platform. The organization found that hundreds of videos tagged #Plandemic, in reference to the widely-debunked documentary-style video of the same name, have gone viral on TikTok.
In addition to #Plandemic, other videos promoting conspiracy theories about Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, and even denials of the existence of the coronavirus have been making the waves on the platform.
"That will always happen. The moment the stuff gets crackdown in one place, they move to other platforms," Laura Garcia of First Draft told BuzzFeed News.
An analysis of 326 videos shows that they were viewed 537,168 times collectively. Ten of the videos account for almost half the views, showing the viral (pun not intended) potential of each video.
"The thing about TikTok is the platform itself is made to be super shareable. It’s not so much the stuff that’s created on TikTok, but how far it can travel," said Garcia, who explained that unlike other social media platforms, TikTok’s algorithm designs its content to go viral.
On other platforms, the videos that users see in their feed are only shared to them by the platform if they follow the creator, or a creator adjacent to someone they’re already following. On TikTok, the videos are served up even if you aren’t within the same network as the creator—provided that you’ve already watched one conspiracy-related video. This has the effect of amplifying conspiracy-related content.
TikTok videos are fully downloadable, allowing them to spread even further on other social media platforms.
A spokesperson for TikTok told BuzzFeed News that they are now taking action against the videos and have since “implemented a number of measures to limit the potential spread of coronavirus-related misinformation.”
Despite the company’s stance, Plandemic-related videos remain easily accessible.