The Bollingers are part of an ecosystem of for-profit companies, nonprofit groups, YouTube channels and other social media accounts that stoke fear and distrust of COVID-19 vaccines, resorting to what medical experts say is often misleading and false information.
An investigation by The Associated Press has found that the couple work closely with others prominent in the anti-vaccine movement — including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his Children’s Health Defense — to drive sales through affiliate marketing relationships.
According to the Bollingers, there is big money involved. They have said that they have sold tens of millions of dollars of products through various ventures and paid out $12 million to affiliates. Tens of thousands of people ponied up cash for an earlier version of their vaccine video series, they said.
“This is a disinformation industry,” said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, who specializes in vaccine policy. Reiss said that unlike other multi-level marketing businesses, in which products are sold through low-level sub-sellers, the anti-vaccination industry is sustained by grassroots activists.
The Bollingers aligned themselves with right-wing supporters of former President Donald Trump — establishing a Super PAC to push what they call “medical freedom,” participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and promoting lies like the assertion that the election was stolen from Trump.
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, the Bollingers held a rally a few blocks from the Capitol. As emergency vehicles screamed past, responding to the invasion and the ransacking of the building, Charlene Bollinger celebrated from the stage. She called it an “amazing day” and led a prayer for the people she called “patriots.” Meanwhile, Ty Bollinger stood at the doors of the Capitol, waiting to get in.
- Our previous report, The Disinformation Dozen, found that up to 65% of anti-vaccine content on social media originates from just 12 individuals, was raised with social media company CEOs at a Congressional hearing on 25 March 2021. The findings of the report were also raised with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by Senators Klobuchar and Luján, by Senator Warner and 12 state attorneys general.
- Social media platforms have not taken action on the Disinformation Dozen: ten remain on Facebook and Twitter, and nine remain on Instagram.
- In the month since publication of the Disinformation Dozen report, 105 posts from the accounts remaining on social media have breached the platforms’ stated policies for disinformation. They include posts falsely linking Covid vaccines to thousands of deaths, conspiracies claiming COVID was lab-engineered, posts describing masks on youngsters as “child abuse”, and posts suggesting that the vaccine makes women infertile.
- The Disinformation Dozen – including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Mercola, and Ty and Charlene Bollinger – have repeatedly violated Facebook, Instagram and Twitter’s policies. While some have been removed from a single platform, most remain active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- We estimate that the anti-vaccine disinformation posted by these 12 individuals and their organisations in the past month has been seen up to 29 million times.
- Facebook, Instagram and Twitter must do what they promised and remove the remaining accounts of the Disinformation Dozen, in order to stop the proliferation of life-threatening anti-vaccine disinformation. To read the full report visit counterhate.com/disinfosequel. For more information contact CCDH at firstname.lastname@example.org