Apr 20, 2019 | Updated: 02:21 PM EDT

GoFundMe Bans Anti-Vaxxers Who Raise Money to Spread Misinformation

Mar 23, 2019 12:44 PM EDT

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Anti-vaxxers have long used GoFundMe to raise money to spread their dangerous message-but now the site is cutting them off, The Daily Beast has learned.

"Campaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe's terms of service and will be removed from the platform," spokesman Bobby Whithorne told The Daily Beast.

"We are conducting a thorough review and will remove any campaigns currently on the platform."

It's the latest crackdown on fact-challenged activists who believe the medical establishment, the government, and the pharmaceutical industry are engaged in a conspiracy to hurt American children.

The U.S. anti-vax movement has been blamed for two outbreaks of measles that have infected some 300 people-mostly children-in New York and the Pacific Northwest.

Last week, the American Medical Association warned social-media giants, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube, that they were helping to amplify the propaganda and confuse parents.

But as The Daily Beast has previously reported, anti-vaxxers have also used sites like GoFundMe to underwrite their messaging campaigns.

Whithorne said such fundraisers were "extremely rare" and that the site had removed fewer than 10 campaigns so far.

The Daily Beast found fundraisers benefiting or promoted by anti-vaccination or "vaccine choice" groups brought in at least $170,000 in the last four years. They include:

  • Prominentanti-vax activist Larry Cook, who spent more money than anyone else boosting his messageon Facebook and collected $79,900 on various GoFundMe campaigns.
  • A vaccine-exemption attorney's legal defense fund, which raised $25,220, that was promoted by Health Freedom Idaho and Sarasota for Vaccine Choice.
  • Three campaigns promoted by A Voice for Choice's Facebook page that raised $39,801.

Melissa Sullivan, executive vice president at Health Choice Connecticut, which raised $2,650 under its previous name, Vaccine Choice CT, said GoFundMe's eviction was a "violation of the First Amendment" and suggested, without any supporting evidence, that the platform was "feeling pressure from Big Pharma."

"Whether you believe it's true or not, everyone is entitled to their opinion," Sullivan said. "I would hope they would reconsider. This movement needs to be able to get funds in order to fight pharma giants like Merck and other vaccine manufacturers."

The fundraising campaigns of Cook, who funded Facebook ads targeting women of child-bearing age in Washington state during the latest measles outbreak, appear to have been taken down earlier this week.

Earlier this week, it banned campaigns that raise money to cover treatment by a controversial German cancer clinic that offers unproven "high-dose vitamin infusions" and "ozone therapy" treatments. GoFundMe told the Financial Times it would be "speaking to organizations and experts" in the U.S. and the U.K. to fight medical misinformation.

"We know we have a major role to play in big issues like this, and as we continue to grow... our policies will continue to evolve to make sure we are best serving people," a spokesman told the newspaper.

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