COVID-19 “Cures”: Colloidal silver and the original health hoax

COVID-19 “Cures”: Colloidal silver and the original health hoax

  • April 1, 2020

Everyone, everywhere is waiting to see if the current measures in place around the world are going to stop the spread of Covid19.

Yet conspiracy theorists and money makers are not wasting any time to push “alternative cures” in the meantime. This content – whether paid-for-ads, entire sites or specific articles – is maliciously spreading inaccurate information to generate profits in a time of life and death.

Colloidal silver is one of these “coronavirus cures” that is being promoted. Colloidal silver – loosely defined as a solution of silver particles suspended in water – is being touted and sold online as a killer of the novel coronavirus despite the lack of any evidence to support the claim.

Public health officials are pleading with conspiracy theorists and online extremists like Alex Jones of InfoWars to stop the sale of colloidal silver products as an alternative cure. These orders arise from fears that colloidal silver will cause real world harm to those who are persuaded to try it and will undermine the efforts of healthcare professionals to combat COVID-19.

Screenshot 1: Colloidal silver remedy for sale on conspiracy website InfoWars.com

Screenshot 2: Jim Baker, a popular televangelist, selling colloidal silver as a coronavirus cure on his TV show

Disinformation on “coronavirus cures” is not just about selling one’s own products. As we have shown in past research, ad tech companies funnel almost a quarter billion dollars every year in ad revenues to websites that publish disinformation. The business of fake coronavirus cures is no different.

We found Google placing ads on various articles supporting the use of colloidal silver as a remedy or protection against the coronavirus.

We also found Google providing ads for well-known brands like American Express, Confluence and Closed on an article supporting Alex Jones’ supplements, claiming that “The government is also cracking down on remedies not approved by the FDA, such as colloidal silver, as a way to protect the Big Pharma monopoly on health and wellness, using coronavirus as the excuse to flex their muscle.” (see screenshot 3).

Overall, new GDI research found that Google provided ad services on 86% of the more than 50 coronavirus conspiracy sites that we assessed.

Screenshot 3: Google placed ads on article about colloidal silver and Alex Jones’ supplements

Note: The bottom of the screenshot shows the Google ad code for the Closed ad being displayed.

In another article that claimed “Colloidal silver products are boosting the immune system, fighting bacteria and viruses, and have been used for treating cancer, HIV/AIDS, shingles, herpes, eye ailments, prostatitis – and COVID-19”, Google served up two of the ads on it, including for Bitdefender, The Sofa Company, and “antibodies”  (screenshot 4). In compiling this blog, we also found sponsored content from Revcontent on various sites pushing colloidal silver as a remedy (see screenshot 5).

Screenshot 4: Google placed ads on an article promoting colloidal silver as a coronavirus cure

Note: The bottom of the screenshot shows the Google ad code for the GeneTex antibodies ad being displayed.

Screenshot 5: Sponsored ads provided by Revcontent on article about colloidal silver

Note: The bottom of the screenshot shows the Revcontent ad code for the ads being displayed.

Screenshot 6: Google placed ads on article about colloidal silver

Note: The bottom of the screenshot shows the Google ad code for the ads being displayed.

The theory that colloidal silver protects against diseases like COVD-19 is an old recycled narrative that has been rolled out before during the flu season as well as outbreaks of other deadly viruses, like Ebola.

Colloidal silver has been used for centuries as a food preservation aid, purifyer, and anti-bacterial remedy for wounds and diseases (see screenshot 6).

The idea of colloidal silver as a stand alone cure for illness stems from rumors during the Bubonic Plague. Also called the “black death”, the plague may have killed up to one-third of Europe’s population when it rolled across the continent in the 1300s after making its mark in Asia. Allegedly, blue bloods, who were thought to have been “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” and ate off of silver utensils as adults, ingested silver properties that helped them survive.

Currently, there is no evidence that suggests that colloidal silver can cure or protect against Covid-19. In fact, studies have shown that ingesting silver in large doses, colloidal or not, can be seriously harmful: liver damage, thyroid deficiency, and most commonly, a skin condition called “Argria,” that permanently discolors the skin.

While the world struggles to contain Covid-19, malicious opportunists are spreading disinformation, undermining the protocols recommended by doctors and governments, and preying on people’s desperation.

The disinformation ecosystem is creating real life harms and ad tech companies like Google and Revcontent need to take decisive action now.

(Next week we will look at other conspiracy cures for COVID-19).

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