April 8, 2020
Fringe groups around the world have used the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to spread conspiracies and disinformation all over the web. These narratives have overlapped and are feeding off each other. A clear example of this is the “Magical Mineral Solution,” (MMS) touted by followers of the QAnon conspiracy, along with colloidal silver, as a cure. QAnon conspiracy theorists, as we have written about, believe that using the MMS solution is the best way to fight the government’s “depopulation” program and heal their ailments.
MMS is a chemical mixture made of chlorine dioxide, otherwise known as bleach. Ingesting it could severely damage one’s kidneys, and will likely kill anyone who consumes it in large enough doses. Its use as a coronavirus cure was quickly debunked by Politifact and Factcheck - and fretted about by Rolling Stone and others - when it started to gain traction on social media as an effective remedy at the end of January.
Yet, QAnon conspirators continue to use the solution to push their belief, stemming from Pizzagate, that “the deep state,” is out to destroy American values and way of life via the coronavirus. QAnon continues to discredit world leaders and advertise alternative cures like MMS as the solution to the coronavirus.
What’s more concerning is the spread of QAnon disinformation through mainstream media, including their narrative that the coronavirus is a virus that was intentionally created by the Chinese government as a biological weapon (see Screenshot 1):
Screenshot 1: CLOSED ad (by Google) and Made.com ad (by Criteo) on QAnon coronavirus conspiracy story
Even when mainstream media is covering QAnon to debunk their theories, there is concern that such coverage is legitimising their claims and positioning them positively ahead of the 2020 US elections.
Lately, a large number of conservative Republican candidates for Congress, like Danielle Stella and Mykel Barthelemy, have been promoting the QAnon conspiracy both personally and online as part of their candidacies. Even President Trump has retweeted at least 100 posts that came from QAnon-linked accounts.
This mainstream endorsement makes it easier to push their agenda, drive traffic to their sites and increase sales of MMS. It also is lucrative. All of this traffic helps to bring more cash to QAnon supporters thanks to funding from programmatic advertising through ad tech companies like Google and Criteo (see Screenshots 2, 3 and 4).
Screenshot 2: Trump campaign ad by Google on QAnon coronavirus conspiracy site
Screenshot 3: Made.com ads by Criteo on QAnon coronavirus story
Screenshot 4: Lady Esther cosmetics ad by Google on pro-MMS article
In our latest study of coronavirus conspiracy sites, we found that Google provided ad services to 86 percent of them. The next largest in line is Amazon (20%).
Google has yet to find a way to defund false mainstream, politically charged news and advertisements, which now include QAnon conspiracies.
The case of MMS shows the clear confluence of Qanon conspiracy theorists with coronavirus conspiracy sites promoting “cures”.
The fact is, MMS and its creator, Jim Humble, have been around since 1996. In his self published book,“MMS Health Recovery Guidebook,” he endorses his “breakthrough” cure, simply with a few drops. While there have been zero clinical trials and no medically recorded observations of his claims, he “thinks it’s safe to say that MMS has the potential to overcome most diseases known to mankind.”
In 2016, Humble was investigated following the death of Sylvia Nash, who had used MMS to deter malaria on a trip to the Western Pacific Islands. After the investigation aired on ABC News, Humble made a public statement withdrawing his belief in MMS cures. Yet his endorsements remain live on his website despite his confession.
Screenshot 5: From“MMS Health Recovery Guidebook,” on www.jimhumble.co
A clear solution to stop harmful coronavirus conspiracies from spreading means breaking the ecosystem both conspiracies are part of: disinformation.
For GDI, this means defunding these sites by ensuring that ad services provided by Google, Criteo and others are not offered to these sites.
Such a change is needed urgently.
As GDI has argued, the placement of adverts on these coronavirus conspiracy sites is funding an extremely pernicious form of disinformation, which when it bleeds into mainstream news sites, becomes even more lethal.
Coronavirus health disinformation is not a matter of opinion and debate - it is a matter of life and death.
The ad tech companies who place ads on it and the platforms who carry it, need to stop before more people die.