This Week in Corona Scams, the “BS Bead” shakedown continues. Even worse, this is just one cog in the much larger wheel of the Influencer Infodemic. As COVID-19 continues to rage across America, and as anti-science disinformation further fuels anti-democracy extremism, it’s long past time that we drop the “BS”.
WARNING: Today’s story includes reports on violent actions, including murder and threats of terrorism. Reader discretion is advised.
Let’s start with the “BS Bead” update I didn’t really want to give. Yes, they’re now selling “healing candles” too.
Long-time readers of this series know that we’ve been tracking the “BS Beads” saga since the videos and screenshots first surfaced of then Younique MLM salesperson “KM” recommending “stones specific to the virus”. Since then, “KM” and “BS Bead” company founder “MB” have continually made a slew of false health claims about the beads.
More recently, “KM” has been claiming that the “BS Beads” are working wonders for her mental health. “MB” herself has also been ramping up the mental health claims, and she’s directing her other “influencers” to amplify these claims. And just this week, “MB” took the “BS Bead” cash grab to new depths by releasing a $130 “Serenity Candle” that allegedly “aligns and balances your meridians through your smell or olfactory stimulation”. (Editor’s Note: While preparing this story, the “BS Beads” website stopped featuring “Serenity Candles” for sale. Make of that what you will.)
Needless to say, there is zero scientific evidence to back up these “natural healing stone” claims. And while there’s some evidence suggesting that aromatherapy may have some health benefits, they can’t point to any real evidence to back their “meridian balancing” claims, let alone their more outrageous claims about COVID-19, cancer, heart disease, and other life-threatening ailments. Regardless of the lack of scientific evidence to back up their claims, “MB” has a growing chorus of “influencers” to spread the gospel of “BS Beads” all over Instagram. Remember Instagram, that other social media platform owned by Facebook?
Here’s where “Dr. Demon Sperm” and the “intellectual dark web” re-enter the chat.
Though “KM” occasionally runs into trouble with Facebook for going too far with her “engaging content” on her Facebook and Instagram pages, Facebook continues to allow her, “MB”, and the other “BS Bead influencers” to make these false health claims while selling “BS Bead” products. As we’ve been pointing out since last year, this is far from an isolated incident. This speaks to the larger Influencer Infodemic that “Big Tech” companies seem all too happy to allow them to continue thriving on their social media platforms.
Remember Dr. Stella Immanuel, the “Dr. Demon Sperm” whose “they’re all well!” rants went viral last summer despite the lack of scientific evidence for using hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients? She’s gone on to also embrace anti-vaccine propaganda, and Facebook allowed her to continue to spread false propaganda on COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine, and the COVID-19 vaccines on multiple Instagram accounts. Though we didn’t find any active accounts, we still found multiple Stella Immanuel accounts on Instagram that now function as archives for anti-vaccine propaganda.
27/n Here's a study with impossible percentages in table 1 that used a comparator of 12 completely random patients as their control. They don't even say if these 12 people had COVID-19
Included in ivmmeta, no questions asked pic.twitter.com/3AlGdGcPnW
— Health Nerd (@GidMK) August 2, 2021
Even worse “America’s Frontline Doctors”, the far-right front group who amplified Immanuel’s “Demon Sperm” message last year, still have active Facebook and Twitter accounts that direct people to their website, where they have easy links to let users share content onto their social media accounts, as well as links to their Rumble and Bitchute pages where they can post their more inflammatory content. “America’s Frontline Doctors” have also promoted newer “influencers” like the anti-vaccine and pro-insurrection Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert (R), and they quickly hopped onto the current far-right celebration of ivermectin as “THE CURE!” despite the glaring lack of scientific evidence showing ivermectin has any capacity to treat, cure, or prevent COVID-19.
While Facebook and Reddit have promised to crack down on efforts to sell ivermectin prescriptions like the ones “America’s Frontline Doctors” offer, NBC News found active groups on both platforms who were still facilitating ivermectin prescription transactions as recently as late last month. Meanwhile Dr. Pierre Kory, the man behind his “Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance” ivermectin front group, still spreads disinformation on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, and so far neither platform has bothered to even warn users about the true nature of Kory’s false accusations. And Bret Weinstein, the evolutionary biologist turned “intellectual dark web” podcaster, continues to utilize his Twitter account, his YouTube account, and sympathetic media pundits like Bill Maher, Joe Rogan, and Tucker Carlson to pump out their ivermectin propaganda and promote Weinstein’s own very lucrative Patreon page.
The disinformation flows far and wide online, and it’s already led to IRL consequences.
As we’ve been warning for some time, actions have consequences. At first glance, it may just be “funny” to see all this pseudoscientific propaganda all over the “Big Tech” social media platforms. But as fascist groups and anti-vaccine activists continue to make threats at school board meetings, call for violence against health care providers and public health authorities, and even launch violent “protests” across the nation, it’s becoming clearer than ever that not only is this pseudoscientific propaganda terrible for our public health, but it also risks the health of our democracy.
On August 14, an anti-vaccine “protest” in Downtown Los Angeles turned violent as “protesters” attacked two journalists and seemingly encouraged fights with the Antifa counter-protesters who showed up. Since then, a critical mass of “movement leaders” have continued to indulge in violent rhetoric. In Florida, an August 30 “protest” at the Lee County school board went downhill with the assault of a doctor. Last month, a California surf instructor confessed to killing his two children in Rosarito, Mexico, and he claimed he did so because QAnon propaganda convinced him “he was saving the world from monsters”.
PA GOP Gov candidate Steve Lynch today: “Forget going into these school boards with freaking data. You go in to these school boards to remove them. I’m going in with 20 strong men and I’m gonna give them an option – they can leave or they can be removed.” pic.twitter.com/A0M6SsOldI
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) August 30, 2021
When we factor in these ongoing threats from anti-vaccine extremists and other extreme COVID-19 deniers alongside the ongoing threats from other fascist militants who seek to finish what they advanced on January 6, we can better understand how and why this seemingly “funny wingnut internet foolishness” can spiral into something far more sinister. This danger spreads quite far and wide, yet this danger also lurks very close to home.
As noted above, Joey Gilbert is trying to use his anti-vaccine and anti-democracy platform as a political launchpad with his gubernatorial campaign. One of his intra-party rivals, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee (R), now cynically spews anti-vaccine talking points and promotes pseudoscientific “healing arts” as part of his effort to outflank Joey Gilbert on the far right. Another rival, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R), notoriously tried to scrub photos of himself getting vaccinated. The Clark County School District (CCSD) Board of Trustees met last night to approve a plan to develop new vaccination requirements, and pro-QAnon/anti-vaxx Trustee Katie Williams had already been rallying her extremist base to show up and try to disrupt the board meeting. The Board of Trustees ultimately voted 5-1 to initiate the process of developing a staff vaccine mandate (with Williams abstaining) that CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara will ultimately need to negotiate with the CCSD worker unions in order to finalize, and that came after nearly five hours of public comment featuring the same anti-vaccine and COVID-19 denial conspiracy theories that have been fomenting more extreme “dissent” and “protest” against public health safety policies across America.
Here’s another friendly reminder that we don’t have to accept this as “our new normal”.
Considering how depressing these columns have become lately, I want to close with some better news. In our backyard, Caesars Entertainment announced that the “For God and Country Patriot Double Down” QAnon conference that had been scheduled for late next month has been canceled. QAnon movement leaders like 8chan/8kun co-founder Jim Watkins and “digital soldier” commander Michael Flynn were set to headline this convention, lead organizer “QAnon John” (also known as John Sabal) endorsed “military mutiny” and a coup to forcibly remove President Joe Biden from office, and it was looking highly likely that organizers had no plans to encourage compliance with the State of Nevada’s and Caesars Entertainment’s health safety rules.
Heading back online, star podcaster Joe Rogan may finally be losing some star-power thanks to his rush to sign that Spotify contract. While Rogan scored a big payday by agreeing to make more of his content Spotify exclusives, The Verge examined data showing how Rogan’s podcast has lost clout by becoming mostly confined to Spotify. Considering how Joe Rogan’s podcast has become such a crucial far-right and pseudoscience “rabbit hole”, Rogan’s Spotify deal may yet limit his audience for whatever he says next about how ivermectin has been part of his COVID-19 treatment regimen.
Bringing this around full circle, “KM” doesn’t even seem to have the large social media following she used to enjoy. Her Facebook Live viewer counts have dropped considerably in the last year, and “MB” has recently turned to new “influencers” to shill “BS Beads”. And on multiple social media platforms, a growing number of pro-science advocates are fighting back with their own viral videos debunking QAnon and anti-vaccine disinformation.
This Influencer Infodemic may be so tragic and lethal, yet it’s also incredibly preventable. “Big Tech” companies and government regulators have always had the ability to act. Yet even as they continue to drag their feet, there’s plenty that we can do to clean up our own social media feeds and let our own friend circles know where they can go to find the truth… And drop the BS.
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, check Nevada Health Response for testing in your area, and check Nevada 211 for more health care resources. If you’re in need of additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square. And for goodness sake, please maintain best practices to help stop the spread.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.