PayPal and GoFundMe are hosting crowdfunding campaigns for organizations that spread harmful COVID-19 misinformation
Both platforms have policies against campaigns that are misleading or involve products that can cause consumer harm
Amid an ongoing pandemic that has already claimed over 700,000 American lives, PayPal, GoFundMe, and other payment platforms are hosting donation pages and crowdfunding campaigns for organizations spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Groups known for spreading medical misinformation, including Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC), America’s Frontline Doctors, Children’s Health Defense, Urban Global Health Alliance, and the Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd., all have campaigns or donation pages set up through the aforementioned platforms. Even though these fundraising efforts appear to violate the platforms’ policies, these groups have managed to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help fund their misinformation projects.
Some of these organizations have been spreading misleading claims about vaccines for years, while others have been founded recently with the purpose of pushing the use of drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which have not been proved effective for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned against using either drug for this purpose, stating that the misuse of these medications can cause serious harm.
GoFundMe’s policy states that users must agree to “not to use the Services to raise funds or establish or contribute to any Fundraiser with the implicit or explicit purpose of promoting or involving ... products, medical practices, or any related equipment or paraphernalia that have been found by an applicable regulatory body to cause consumer harm.” The platform’s terms of service also prohibit “user content or Fundraisers that are fraudulent, misleading, inaccurate, dishonest, or impossible.” While GoFundMe has made efforts in the past to crack down on campaigns that promote vaccine misinformation, it has failed to successfully keep this type of content off the platform.
Despite these policies, the following organizations spreading misinformation about vaccines and COVID-19 have succeeded in using PayPal, GoFundMe, and other crowdfunding platforms to raise money during the pandemic:
Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance
The Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) is a nonprofit organization that promotes unproven protocols for preventing and treating COVID-19. These protocols are centered around the use of ivermectin, a drug which numerous public health agencies and even its own manufacturer have warned against using for COVID-19.
The organization’s website states that all donations will be used to “support the FLCCC Alliance with the rising costs of public relations, research, medical education, translation, advocacy, and lobbying.” Clicking the donation button on the website redirects to a PayPal page through which donations can be made.
Media Matters has also identified three GoFundMe campaigns dedicated to raising money for the FLCCC Alliance. One of these campaigns was organized by the group's communications manager, Joyce Kamen. It raised over $20,000 for the organization’s “public relations, research, medical education, advocacy, and outreach,” and the page even includes links to a video promoting false claims about ivermectin, along with other resources.
Another GoFundMe campaign that was created on behalf of the FLCCC Alliance raised over half of its goal of $300, and a third campaign had a goal of raising $5,000. In the description, the organizer wrote, “Money donated will be given to Dr Pierre Kory and his FLCCC team that are helping rid the world of Covid-19.” These fundraisers are no longer available on GoFundMe.
The FLCCC Alliance has also set up an account with eBay for Charity, through which sellers can donate a portion of their profits to the organization. Through this page, visitors also have the option of directly supporting the FLCCC Alliance through PayPal.
In addition to the crowdfunding campaigns set up to directly support the FLCCC Alliance, there are several other campaigns to support individuals trying to use the group’s COVID-19 treatment protocols or pay for lawsuits against hospitals that refuse to use the protocol for patients. A couple campaigns even explicitly mention needing money to pay the lawyer fees of Ralph Lorigo, a New York conservative and attorney who is promoted by the FLCCC Alliance. Lorigo has sued several hospitals around the country for refusing to give patients ivermectin.
America’s Frontline Doctors
America’s Frontline Doctors is a tea party-backed conservative group focused on pedalling unproven COVID-19 treatments, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. The organization’s founder, Dr. Simone Gold, was arrested for her attendance at the January 6 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., where she was filmed giving a speech about the dangers of the coronavirus vaccine. On the America’s Frontline Doctors donation page, users are given the option to make their donation via PayPal. Gold has also set up a fundraising campaign for the organization on Fundly, which has raised over $83,000 so far.
Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd.
Earlier this year, a GoFundMe campaign was created by Tess Lawrie on behalf of the Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd., a U.K. group that Lawrie founded after she was inspired by watching Kory promote the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment. Lawrie and her group have since worked with the FLCCC Alliance. The GoFundMe campaign, which is no longer up on the site, raised over 32,000 pounds for research and to raise awareness around the use of ivermectin for COVID-19. The description also links to the FLCCC Alliance website and contains numerous false statements about the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19.
Children's Health Defense
Children's Health Defense is run by prominent anti-vaccine figure Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is listed as one of the “disinformation dozen” -- 12 influencers who reportedly account for 65% of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and Twitter. Donations can be made to Children's Health Defense through PayPal. The organization’s website is filled with COVID-19 misinformation.
This organization has used crowdfunding to support its campaign of disinformation in the past as well. In 2018, an IndieGoGo campaign was used to raise over $72,000 to “help Children’s Health Defense and RFK, Jr. end the epidemic of poor health plaguing our children.”
Urban Global Health Alliance
Kevin Jenkins, the founder and CEO of the Urban Global Health Alliance, is also one of the “disinformation dozen.” He is also a co-founder of the Freedom Travel Alliance, a company set up to help anti-vaxxers travel during the pandemic.
Through the Urban Global Health Alliance, Jenkins has pushed anti-vaccine rhetoric around the COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets Black communities. The group’s donation page links directly to PayPal.