“#DeplatformIcke. How Big tech poker and profits from David Icke’s lies and hate, and why it must stop”
For many people, David Icke is a joke, whose public life ended when he declared himself the “son of God” live on the BBC thirty years ago. In truth that interview was the start of a new and profitable career as a professional conspiracy theorist, in which Icke has spent decades promoting bigotry and misinformation. Icke’s popularity was turbocharged by social media, where he has an audience of two million followers. His website is one of the 1,000 most popular in the UK. Recent polling by Hope Not Hate revealed that more than half of the UK population have heard of Icke. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has clarified the threat David Icke poses to public safety. His conspiracy theories about COVID-19 have been viewed over 30 million times on social media, making him the leading producer of misinformation on the disease. Taken together, his videos outline a “superconspiracy” in which COVID-19 does not exist and has been invented by a “global cult” to justify the imposition of an “Orwellian global state”. Millions have watched Icke explain how Bill Gates and the Jewish Rothschilds form part of that cult, and how 5G networks and vaccines are the real cause of COVID-19. This is having real world consequences. In the UK, there was a wave of arson attacks on 5G phone masts after videos of Icke falsely linking them to COVID-19 were shared in Facebook groups, amassing millions of views. In North America, anti-lockdown protestors have cited David Icke as their inspiration. Research by Dr Daniel Allington published by CCDH shows that those who are persuaded by conspiracy theories are less likely to follow the government’s guidance to wash their hands regularly, stay at home and socially distance. Icke profits from all this misinformation. His YouTube videos generate ad revenue both from Google Ads and from his sponsor, an investment firm seeking to exploit the paranoia of Icke’s followers. Social media platforms profit from hosting Icke too. His audience of over two million followers could be worth up to $23.8 million in annual revenue,primarily generated by advertisers seeking to reach Icke’s fans as well as the money Icke and his collaborators spend to reach a wider audience. Facebook and Twitter even allow advertisers to target people with an interest in Icke and 5G. Meanwhile, Amazon and Apple TV sell access to videos in which Icke promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories, denies climate change is real and encourages people to refuse vaccinations. Removing this content in a piecemeal fashion will not work. YouTube attempted this with the removal of just some of Icke’s videos on 5G in early April, only to leave his misinformation network intact and able to launch a recruitment drive that gained over 320,000 followers in a week. We have seen that if they want, social media companies can act. Alex Jones, the proprietor of US ‘fake news’ outlet InfoWars, was deplatformed by social media companies for his hate and misinformation. The only way to rein in Icke’s hate and misinformation is to deplatform him now, before inaction on his lies and hate end up costing lives.