- On the encrypted app Telegram, members of a fringe medical movement are promoting a toxic bleach as a miracle cure in closed and public groups.
- Their operation, active before the novel coronavirus swept the world, has taken on new urgency as more and more people seek protection from the pandemic.
- Promoters of the bleach, which some call Miracle Mineral Solution, flourished on Telegram after being ousted from platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
- The app has long been favoured by terrorists and criminals. Its CEO has resisted clamping down on dangerous material, citing freedom of speech.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As the novel coronavirus started to spread around the world, the administrators of a fringe medical group on the encrypted app Telegram claimed to be in possession of a cure that was being suppressed by mainstream science.
The substance is chlorine dioxide – which they called CD, and is also known as MMS, or Miracle Mineral Solution. The group, however, offers no proof that it works.
“How many drops of cd a healthy person or pregnant woman should take to avoid carona virus?” one member of the group asked.
“There is no max dose,” an administrator replied. “There is only a tolerated amount. I have seen people to be best with 24 to 80 drops over the day.”
They advise diluting the drops in a bottle of water and consuming it throughout the day.
Chlorine dioxide is a type of toxic bleach, used to clean surfaces. The US Food and Drug Administration warns that it can cause nausea, severe vomiting, diarrhoea, and liver failure.
Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a paediatrician at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group, told Business Insider that while tiny amounts of chlorine dioxide were present in tap water, the solution being advocated in the group hugely exceeded those safe limits.
“Improper ingestion of unregulated and non-dilute forms of bleach solution can cause extreme damage to cells in children and adults,” she said.
In recent years it has become the focus of a large online alternative medical movement. Its adherents, without any scientific support and on the basis of largely anecdotal evidence, claim it cures a raft of otherwise incurable illnesses and conditions.
With the coronavirus now a pandemic, some are touting the substance as being preventive, and even a cure, for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Banned from Facebook and YouTube, promoters of the bleach find refuge on Telegram
The promotion of MMS stems from the Genesis II church, an organisation founded in California in the mid-1990s by Jim Humble, who claimed to have discovered that MMS could cure diseases when ingested in small doses over long periods. Business Insider attempted to reach Humble but received no response.
The exact chemical definition of MMS is not fixed – sometimes the advocates say it is chlorine dioxide itself, and sometimes they say MMS is sodium chlorite, which produces chlorine dioxide when mixed with acid.
The internet gave advocates of MMS a platform on which to spread their claims about the substance globally. An extensive network of advocates emerged, posting videos promoting the substance on YouTube and forming groups to discuss and sell it on Facebook.
As the movement has spread, medical authorities in countries across the world have been forced to issue increasingly urgent warnings against its use. The FDA in the US renewed its warning last year, after a rise in reported injuries caused by the substance.
Siddiqui likened the effects of consuming chlorine dioxide to the effects of exposure to chlorine gas, a chemical weapon used in the World War I.
When consumed, she said, it causes irritation in the digestive tract “and can also cause burns and irritation in the esophagus, which is not meant to tolerate bleach solutions.”
Following the warnings – and bans in countries including Ireland and Canada – platforms including Facebook and YouTube have prohibited the promotion of MMS.
But on the encrypted and largely unregulated Telegram app, people are able to freely promote the substance, according to information and screenshots obtained by Business Insider.
It’s on apps like Telegram, where members speak in private groups with people they trust, that misinformation on the virus is spreading, experts say.
Telegram did not respond to several requests for comment.
Graphic images of the damage bleach can cause
Fiona O’Leary is an activist who has for years campaigned for the rights of people with autism, and against the promotion of MMS. The substance is sometimes advocated as a “cure” for autism, which is a permanent neurological condition.
She gained access to several of the pro-MMS groups operating on Telegram. O’Leary shared disturbing pictures and messages with Business Insider showing how MMS’ advocates were attempting to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to sell the substance.
Business Insider has chosen not to reproduce most of the images because of their graphic nature.
One of the groups is operated by Kerri Rivera, a longtime disciple of Genesis II. It is a private group, entry to which must be approved by Rivera or a group administrator.
O’Leary said Rivera had “been banished from Facebook and YouTube thanks to media outlets like Business Insider.”
“However,” she continued, “Kerri has set up shop on the Telegram platform. She operates several groups there – I’ve reported them many times, but Telegram does nothing.
“Kerri Rivera is also telling people that MMS can treat COVID-19. This is so dangerous, and people could die from this reckless advice.”
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advises those with symptoms of the illness, such as a fever and a cough, to stay at home and contact a doctor and seek emergency treatment only if they experience breathing difficulties. There are no FDA-approved treatments or vaccines for the disease.
In response to a list of questions from Business insider on her promotion of chlorine dioxide, Rivera wrote: “If you’re sincerely interested in health reporting, you might look up all the medical use patents that include chlorine dioxide as an ingredient. After you’ve done that, maybe we can talk. Meanwhile, I’m busy helping my families.”
She did not respond to further questions.
An FDA spokesman, Jeremy Kahn, told Business Insider in a statement: “MMS and similar products have not been approved by the FDA to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency has set the safe levels for chlorine dioxide in drinking water at 0.8 milligrams per litre. Rivera’s recommendations are thousands of times greater.
The exchange earlier in this article, in which a woman asked whether MMS could stop the coronavirus, was taken from Rivera’s group.
In a video published in that group, Rivera claims a coronavirus infection can be prevented and cured with chlorine dioxide. She says it can be drunk from a bottle, sprayed into the mouth and nose throughout the day, or even loaded into a humidifier device and inhaled via droplets in the air.
Business Insider has found no evidence to support the claim these forms of ingesting the bleach would be effective.
“And if we do get sick, we can go into hyper mode and we can be doing everything,” she said – by which she means people should take the bleach all three ways at once.
Siddiqui said people should be wary of any proposed treatment for the coronavirus that has not been through clinical trials and been deemed safe and effective by the FDA.
She especially warned against consuming chlorine dioxide. “Ingestion of any such bleach solutions in an unregulated amount would be detrimental and dangerous – especially for children and pregnant women,” she said.
But it’s not just COVID-19 that Rivera claims can be cured using bleach. Rivera has for years – and with no supporting scientific evidence – pushed chlorine dioxide bleach as a treatment for autism in children, as well as a range of illnesses.
Some of the most shocking messages in her group are from parents, who share images of the injuries MMS appears to have caused their children, desperately seeking answers about what is happening.
Some of the images appear to show long strands of intestinal lining the children have excreted, which parents are concerned is the damage from the bleach in their digestive systems.
Business Insider has decided not to republish them.
Others show rashes, as seen below.
In this exchange, a parent is told the rashes on the child’s body are being caused by “detoxification” from taking MMS too quickly.
In this exchange a woman complains her son is becoming aggressive. Rivera’s recommendation in response is “triple dose” and “enemas.”
In another exchange, a parent complains their child has a fever and a cold after beginning her course of MMS.
The answer is chilling – encouraging the parents to radically increase the doses of the substance that may be making the child sick.
Siddiqui described how ingesting a chlorine-dioxide solution or being given enemas with it would damage a child’s body.
“Exposing the gastrointestinal tract via an enema with the bleach-type substance can cause harm and chemical burns to the digestive tract,” Siddiqui wrote. “Bleeding and extreme irritation can also occur. Strictures in the gastrointestinal tract can also occur.”
Rivera may be one of the highest-profile proponents of MMS operating on Telegram – but she is not the only one. Business Insider has identified other groups promoting the substance on the platform, some of which are public, or require no permission to access.
The largest is based in Brazil and has more than 1,000 members.
O’Leary has recorded in her blog how members of that group advocate using the substance to treat illnesses including malaria, wounds, and infections, and even injuries to animals.
It is apparently run by a Brazilian, Leo Araujo, who has shared pictures of himself with children promoting MMS.
In response to a list of questions about his activities, Araujo told Business Insider in a Facebook message: “In the 24 years since it was discovered, no one has died from using MMS. However, many people around the world have benefited from the immunological effects of chlorine dioxide to improve health.”
There have in fact been at least two deaths in the US linked to the consumption of MMS, according to a review of FDA documents conducted by Business Insider last year.
Telegram is allowing MMS to flourish
As the coronavirus has spread across the world, misinformation and fake cures have proliferated. CNN reported in March that private groups on WhatsApp were a key source of the spread of coronavirus misinformation. Telegram is another.
“Person-to-person messaging apps rely on personal connections to spread information, and also potentially misinformation,” said Tom Buchanan, a professor of psychology at the University of Westminster in London who has studied the spread of misinformation on social media.
“Another issue with person-to-person messaging apps like Telegram or WhatsApp is that because they are by their nature private, it’s very difficult to see what material is being spread, or for fact-checkers to debunk it in the same way as they can on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.”
Telegram is easy to find and download on Google Play and Apple, the two biggest platforms for apps.
It was founded by Pavel Durov, a Russian entrepreneur who has said he created it in response to political oppression in his homeland and has defended the app’s encryption and refusal to police its content on the grounds of free speech.
Both Google and Apple have policies in place banning apps that are harmful and have removed several in the past year for contravening those policies. Apple has briefly suspended Telegram in the past.
Telegram itself, after much criticism, took action to remove groups being used by ISIS members to coordinate terrorist attacks.
And Apple has also in the past reportedly prevented users who downloaded Telegram using its platform from accessing certain channels.
Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment.
Telegram did not respond to several requests for comment on the pro-MMS groups it hosts or on its policies about the promotion of fake medicine.