During a livestream broadcast on Aug. 30, exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui “revealed” the Chinese Communist Party’s secret “antidote” to Covid-19: artemisinin, a malaria treatment currently being tested on hospitalized Covid-19 patients by the World Health Organization. Guo claims artemisinin “is more than 99% effective in curing the CCP virus,” despite the WHO saying there is still a lack of conclusive evidence showing the drug can treat Covid-19. Similar to other unproven Covid-19 treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, the promise of a ‘miracle drug’ supersedes the important context about ongoing trials or inconclusive evidence. While Graphika has not seen any evidence linking Guo to sales of the drug, the revelatory nature of this announcement given the prominence of alternative cures in the current Covid-19 conversation offers Guo more attention and engagement from his large network of followers. According to Meltwater Social data, in the two days since Guo’s broadcast, Twitter users mentioned artemisinin over 9,000 times. While it’s unclear if the artemisinin narrative will spread beyond the Guo media community, Graphika’s previous analysis found Guo’s network to be a prolific producer and amplifier of mis- and disinformation, including about the coronavirus pandemic.
In promoting artemisinin, Guo and his media network are relying on tactics Graphika and the Virality Project have observed in the amplification of other unproven Covid-19 treatments. These include ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, both of which are being promoted by Guo’s network alongside artemisinin. Despite Guo’s audience being primarily members of the Chinese diaspora community and his organizations focus on “taking down the CCP,” the overlap in tactics with alternative cures promoted by the anti-vaxx community outlined below suggests a common framework through which researchers can understand future misinformation concerning unproven treatments.
Promotional graphic from Guo Wengui’s Gettr account suggesting artemisinin is the cure to Covid-19.
Invoking Known Conspiracies
Guo’s network was an early promoter of the conspiracy theory that Covid-19 was a Chinese bioweapon and made a concerted effort to amplify unverified assertions by virologist Li-Meng Yan that the virus was created in a Chinese lab. For months, Guo’s network has seeded claims in videos, media, and social media posts that the CCP has always had an antidote to the virus they intentionally created. Now, Guo has “unveiled” artemisinin, which he says is one of five secret cures for Covid-19.
Video from April in which Guo Wengui claims the CCP has Covid-19 antidotes.
The announcement also included references to other vaccine misinformation narratives such as claims that vaccines contain graphene, which can cause cancer and the loss of reproductive capacity, as a part of a CCP plot to “purify the race” by weakening China’s enemies. Framing this narrative within a broader set of known conspiracies creates the perception of familiarity, and limits the cognitive effort needed to accept new information.
Similar to justifications for the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, Guo’s proof for the effectiveness of artemisinin in curing Covid-19 relies on decontextualized and hard to interpret data. Akin to claims that Dr Fauci patented a coronavirus cure before the pandemic began, a GNews article references a patent filed last April in Guangzhou “to protect artemisinin as an active ingredient against lung diseases” which means “the CCP has long known about the effective agent against coronavirus and has withheld this life-saving knowledge from the world.” Another article spends multiple paragraphs of dense scientific language explaining neutralizing antibodies as justification for the unproven claim that the “Chinese Communist Party [CCP] has the D-NAB antidote, which can quickly destroy the coronavirus in our body, on our skins, or surfaces of other materials.” In a recent blog post, the Virality Project also noted the prominent use of misrepresented and unreliable studies in narratives seeking to “to delegitimize medical experts or the institutions they represent” to “shift credibility and authority.”
Appeals to Authority
In social media posts amplifying the artemisinin narrative, Guo continuously credits Nobel Prize winning scientist Tu Youyou who he calls the “hero to save the human race.” Similar to Guo’s early promotion of Li-Meng Yan and other conspiratorial doctors and scientists, the involvement of experts such as Tu Youyou appears to legitimize the supposed cure. However, while Tu Youyou did receive the Nobel Prize for her work using artemisinin to cure Malaria, she has not published research suggesting the drug can be used to treat Covid-19. In his livestream, Guo claims he has already informed governments around the world of this finding, and that some of the information which led to the revelation came directly from sources within the CCP.
Gettr post where Guo praises Tu Youyou as the “hero to save the human race”.
Proponents of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin often rely on personal anecdotes which can be impossible to disprove. For example, the headline of a Gateway Pundit story from March 2020, read: “Man with Coronavirus Has Near-Death Experience – Is Saved by Hydroxychloroquine Treatment.” The article does not actually prove that hydroxychloroquine was responsible for the man’s recovery, but instead uses his own belief in the drug’s effects to bolster the claim. Likewise, Guo’s network has been promoting unverifiable stories of supporters who were allegedly cured by the secret antidote.
Guo has also attempted to bolster the credibility of this narrative with a broader range of claims that are difficult to verify. For example, one GNews story argues that the Chinese Olympic delegation all received a soon-to-be-released spray version of artemisinin, which kept them virus free throughout the games. Another article claims that following Guo’s announcement, artemisinin sold out in many pharmacies and online platforms, causing the price of the drug to spike. Conspiracy theories thrive on ambiguity, real or manufactured, which can be exploited by savvy actors such as Guo Wengui. Similar to vaccines themselves, knowledge gaps are particularly pervasive with regards to unproven treatments which have a natural period of uncertainty by design.