Story at a glance
- At least five groups that reportedly pushed anti-vaccination views received PPP loans.
- One group received $334,000.
- The Children’s Health Defense pushed back against being categorized as anti-vaccine, saying it is committed to raising questions about the safety of vaccinations.
At least five anti-vaccine organizations that have spread misleading information about the coronavirus received loans from the federal paycheck protection program (PPP), according to a report from The Washington Post.
The Post reports the groups received more than $850,000 from the federal relief program meant to help small businesses stave off the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing data from the London-based advocacy group the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The group fights misinformation and hate speech online.
The organizations that reportedly received the PPP funding include the National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Health Resources, the Informed Consent Action Network, the Children’s Health Defense and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center. The Post notes several of these groups have been penalized by Facebook for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, including being prohibited from buying ads on the social network.
Mercola, a group affiliated with anti-vaccine activist and businessmen Joseph Mercola, received the largest loan out of the group at $335,000. In a report published last year, human rights group Avaaz designated Mercola to be one of the leading superspreaders of misinformation about the coronavirus.
The Children’s Health Defense pushed back against being categorized as anti-vaccine, saying it is committed to raising questions about the safety of vaccinations.
“I’ve never heard anybody say that a loan is only available to people who don’t question the government,” Robert Kennedy Jr., founder of the group and son of the former attorney general and presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy, told the Post.
The group has questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that have received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The group has shared conspiracy theories on social media and filed a lawsuit against Facebook after the social media network restricted the group’s ability to advertise due to the spreading of misinformation.
The small-business loan program was included in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed in March. Businesses of 500 or fewer employees were able to apply for loans to cover eight weeks of employee payroll. The groups likely didn’t run afoul of any of the federal rules by applying for the aid because the program’s requirements are fairly broad.
Misinformation about the coronavirus has been swirling online since word of the first cases began emerging out of Wuhan, China. In February 2020, the World Health Organization warned about a global misinformation “infodemic” that could undermine public confidence in a crucial vaccine.
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