Amazon is selling the book version of Plandemic, to be released in October 2021 and available for pre-order in its Kindle and hardcover format. Released in 2020 amid a global crisis characterized by uncertainty and conflicting news, the Plandemic documentary was mass-shared, despite being debunked by scientists and medical professionals around the world.
Plandemic was accompanied by a well-planned, sophisticated disinformation campaign that was harmful to public health interventions. In essence, the documentary seeks to spread doubt in a seemingly objective way with a meticulous impression of authenticity and a sleek online marketing strategy.
The book is authored by Mikki Willis, a filmmaker who initially created the Plandemic two-part video series that seeks to spread conspiracy theories. The goal of the campaign is to discredit scientific experts and evidence-based research. The documentary features Judy Mikovitz, the discredited virologist and well-known figure in the anti-vaccine community. Mikovitz has a bestselling book on Amazon published by Skyhorse, a private publishing house that markets dozens of conspiracy theory books, including the soon-to-be-released Plandemic book.
Ironically, Plandemic is listed under the ‘Basic Sciences’ category of the medical books section on Amazon’s bookstore. Captioned as “the incredible true story of the most banned documentary in history,” the book is reviewed by Joseph Mercola, a prominent anti-vaxxer who has a Kindle store on Amazon. Mercola is named as one of the disinformation dozen that have been spreading dangerous medical claims for years. The book description is designed to generate intense emotional responses using phrases such as “the darkest of unsolved mysteries,” “an alarming examination of individuals,” “shocking data,” and “ warning the world of crimes against humanity.”
Across its sites, a COVID-19 book search on Amazon reveals more than 20 conspiracy theory titles that advance dangerous claims that the pandemic is a hoax. Many more books, such as Coming Apocalypse or The Real Anthony Fauci, are recommended by its automated algorithm, optimized to increase sales. The books fuel all sorts of conspiracy theories about the pandemic, which has significantly impacted global recovery. The books are labeled with the ‘best seller’ banner, have 5-star ratings, and are recommended by the positive reviews of customers who praise these books. Such features serve as a credibility check.
The e-commerce website is a breeding ground for disinformation, profiting from falsehoods sold on its global online marketplace. However, Amazon is not breaking any law. According to its content policies, no specific rule prohibits selling content related to medical misinformation. Despite removing more than one million books and products that promote health misinformation in 2020, its bookstore is still replete with misinformation and the problem persists.
The pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented surge of misinformation and disinformation of several forms. Several social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Spotify have removed such material, shifting people’s focus to the least-regulated websites like Amazon. Yet, Amazon does not receive the same uproar from the media.
Books are perhaps the most critical means to spread falsehoods. Books carry more legitimacy and authority than tweets, TikTok videos, a blog, a YouTube video, or a Facebook post. Publishers do not need to fact-check the claims in a book. Amazon may not remove conspiracy theory books but perhaps it can elevate reliable material by hiding such results from its algorithm recommendations and develop a system that detects false reviews.
Elissar Gerges has more than 10 years of experience as an AP and IBDP Biology teacher and Biology head of the department. She holds a Master of Science in Education from Walden University, a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development from the University of Toronto, and a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Leadership from Western University, Canada. Elissar’s research focus is on learning communities, team leadership, instructional leadership, and integrating citizenship in science education. She is a strong advocate of science media literacy to enable all students, as active citizens, to critically evaluate science in the media to make informed decisions.