close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.
Special Features

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Doctors Spreading Fake News in Argentina

March 2, 2021
Health Studio
6 min read
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Doctors Spreading Fake News in Argentina

This article is part of IranWire's ongoing coverage of Covid-19 disinformation in different countries, in partnership with Health Studio.

By Florencia Montaruli for Health Studio

For months, the now-defunct “Médicos por la Verdad” (“Doctors for Truth”) Argentina Facebook page was spreading disinformation about coronavirus. The page, which had more than 19,000 followers, baselessly questioned the efficacy of masks and, more recently, the safety of vaccines. Most worryingly, its founders – who are still active on other popular channels – claim to be working physicians.

They oppose the use of face coverings, in spite of the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines masks as “part of the comprehensive strategy of measures to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.” They question the accuracy of PCR tests, even though research shows they are the best indicators of infection and can be used to detect and isolate coronavirus cases, breaking the chain of transmission. They also question the vaccines developed to prevent the disease, even though clinical trials show that several offer very high levels of protection. This is also in spite of the fact the vaccines are built on years of research into similar diseases.

Chlorine dioxide is often baselessly promoted as a possible treatment for Covid-19 on Médicos por la Verdad’s channels. But ingesting this chemical can cause serious harm. It offers no proven benefit against Covid-19, and has so far led to at least two deaths in Argentina.

Who is Behind this Group, and Where did it Come From?

Médicos por la Verdad claims to be run by doctors and other medical professionals who want to share the ‘truth’ about the pandemic. The Argentine group was officially launched on July 25, 2020, sharing its name with an existing group in Spain which has also spread disinformation about the pandemic. This group in turn was inspired by a German collective called Doctors for Illumination, led by physician Heiko Schöning.

The movement quickly spread throughout Latin America and is currently active in more than 14 countries in Latin America and Europe, including Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Guatemala, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain and Germany. Jaime Longoria, a researcher at First Draft News, says this is a typical pattern for this kind of disinformation. Conspiracy theories that originate in Spain often spread to Latin America through Argentina, where there is a large population of recent Spanish immigrants.

Saiph Savage, a researcher of Spanish language disinformation at Carnegie Mellon University, argues that these kinds of groups may be capitalising on a pre-existing Latin American preference for natural medicine. She recently told the global tech website Rest of World: “You do have many populations who oppose new scientific approaches and prefer to use these more natural methods.”


Who are the Group’s Members?

A review of its members’ career history reveals they are more recognised for their activism against vaccines than their conventional medical experience. Many offer so-called “natural” therapies as opposed to recognised medical treatments.

For example, Natalia Prego Cancelo — one of the leaders of Médicos por la Verdad Spain — is a registered general practitioner but defines herself as a “Zen doctor” who heals her patients “through her hands and breathing.”

The most recognisable member of the Argentine group, Dr Chinda Brandolino, is a registered medical examiner. But she has spent years promoting militant far-right political views. In 2019 she ran as a candidate for the ultra-nationalist Proyecto Segunda República, for example. And Health Studio has already exposed her links with Nazi and far-right movements.

Another figure in the Argentine group is geneticist Luis Marcelo Martínez, a long-time defender of discredited theories, such as a relationship between vaccination and autism. He has falsely said in interviews that Covid-19 will trigger irreversible genetic mutations, a statement already shown to be completely false by scientists and fact-checkers around the world.


Médicos por la Verdad and its Hold on Social Media

In December, Facebook announced it would remove disinformation about Covid-19, including “false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients, or side effects” of vaccines.

Facebook removed the Médicos por la Verdad Argentina page on December 27 after it posted a meme featuring “Billy the Puppet” – a frightening, red-eyed character from the horror movie series Saw – accompanied by false information about Covid-19 vaccines. At the time, the page had more than 19,000 followers.

Since then, Médicos por la Verdad has created a new group on Facebook, which so far has fewer than 70 followers. But the collective has also created a new private group that can only be accessed once approval is granted by an administrator. One of the group’s rules says: “what is shared in the group should not leave it to maintain mutual trust.”

Although its reach on Facebook has been limited, Médicos por la Verdad still has several groups on the messaging service Telegram, some with more than 10,000 followers. These public groups are rife with similar disinformation. Worryingly, the same could be happening on private groups in Whatsapp or other messaging apps.

More concerning still is the fact the group’s disinformation efforts are not limited to the internet. Médicos por la Verdad, for example, has encouraged mask and social distancing-free political demonstrations in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Similar “campaigns” have taken place in Berlin and Mexico City.

The message Médicos por la Verdad is pushing is particularly hazardous because it comes from people who present themselves as medical professionals. A survey conducted by Reuters Institute and Oxford University found that almost 90 percent of participants in Argentina considered doctors to be a source of reliable information. That perceived authority, coupled with a populist rhetoric, could seriously harm the country’s fight against Covid-19.

What Disinformation is Médicos por la Verdad Spreading, and Why is it False?

False claims made by members of the group include:

  • “The virus always existed.” This is not true. Although scientists have been aware of a family of viruses called “coronaviruses” for decades, the specific virus that causes Covid-19 was identified in late 2019.
  • “SARS-CoV-2 was genetically modified.” Researchers have shown that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is the product of natural evolution. Scientific evidence that the virus emerged naturally has been published in respected journals such as Nature Medicine.
  • “Coronavirus can be fought with chlorine dioxide.” This statement is entirely false and dangerous. Drinking chlorine dioxide does not cure the coronavirus and can be seriously harmful. It has caused at least two deaths in Argentina so far.
  • “PCR gives 50% false positives.” PCR testing is the most reliable method available to rule out or confirm coronavirus infection. They have an 80 to 85 percent chance of detecting the virus.
  • “Covid-19 vaccines cause infertility.” This baseless myth has been promoted by Wolfgang Wodarg, a German physician and known conspiracy theorist. Wodarg and others have falsely spread the rumour that a protein-like substance present in Covid-19 vaccines is so similar to one linked to pregnancy that it will train the body to attack the pregnancy protein. But in actual fact, these substances are only similar on a very superficial level, and certainly not enough for the pregnancy protein to trigger an immune reaction in someone who has had the vaccine. This idea, though pervasive, has been thoroughly debunked by scientists.



Violence Erupts on Afghan Border Over River Clearance

March 2, 2021
Daniel Dayan
3 min read
Violence Erupts on Afghan Border Over River Clearance