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An Idaho chiropractor who previously posted videos advocating against vaccinations has been running Facebook ads falsely claiming his products can prevent infection from COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Steven Baker said on his Facebook page that he was “uncovering controversial content, educating the masses,” but the videos he has posted go against the scientific consensus on how to behave during the pandemic.
In one promoted video, titled “How to PREVENT COVID-19 Virus from infecting you…” he wears a white baseball cap backward and advises people to use a “silver spray” instead of hand sanitizer. The spray does not contain alcohol and is ineffective protection against the virus — but he does sell it. The ad included links to his website. Or at least he did until recently. His homepage claimed that the website managing company Shopify removed one of his products. The shop was removed entirely after an inquiry from BuzzFeed News.
“Shops listing medical products or making medical claims must be substantiated by our merchants, and failure to do so results in account suspension or termination," a spokesperson for Shopify told BuzzFeed News. "False or deceptive promotion of listed products is a violation of Shopify’s Acceptable Use Policy and not aligned with our mission to make commerce better for everyone."
The Shopify spokesperson also said the company has removed over 5,000 stores related to COVID-19 from its platform for violating policies.
Baker did not return requests for comment.
“These videos violate our policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve disabled this ad account and removed this page. We remove misinformation about COVID-19 that makes false claims about cures, treatments, the availability of essential services or the location and severity of the outbreak — this includes ads.”
Social media networks have recently said they’re cracking down on COVID-19 misinformation. Facebook said it will not tolerate misleading ads, and Twitter has removed tweets containing bad information, including from heads of state.
Colloidal silver products sold online like silver water, silver cream, and silver spray have previously been targets of US authorities trying to stop false COVID-19 cures. This effort has included cease-and-desist letters sent to televangelist Jim Bakker and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Baker, the chiropractor, is attempting to sell a similar substance. Although the promoted link doesn’t lead to an active page, the spray, supplements, and other products are still available on his website.
“To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus,” the World Health Organization says on its website.
Likewise, the FDA has said “there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.”
Baker’s Facebook page has just over 70,000 followers, while his Instagram account hovers at about 6,000. The videos he has been publishing during the pandemic have seen the highest engagement rate of anything he’s posted, according to data from social media analysis firm CrowdTangle.
The most popular video, titled “Vitamin D to KILL COVID-19? How much do you need?” has been viewed over 114,000 times. People in the comments said they signed up for his webinars and purchased his products.
Another one of the promoted videos made the false claims that coronavirus vaccines would contain microchips, drawing on Baker's previous opposition to vaccines.
“He is an anti-vaccer [sic]. Please don’t go to this man. It amazes me that he is able to practice spreading information that is clearly not based on scientific evidence,” said a one-star review on his Google Business page.
Baker is far from the only chiropractor promoting health misinformation. On March 17, the World Federation of Chiropractic, a nonprofit consulting organization, published guidance saying “chiropractors should refrain from any communication that suggests spinal adjustment/manipulation may protect patients from contracting COVID-19 or will enhance their recovery.”
Another website, Chiro-SMaRT, published a public letter to chiropractors asking them to follow the WHO’s guidelines. That letter was signed by 68 members of the profession.