On Christmas Day, a cousin forwarded me a screenshot of her church’s WhatsApp congregation: “Our pastor was electric today. He warned us, mRNA vaccines are Europe’s plot to change Africans’ DNA, make Black women infertile. Should I change churches?”
I texted back my cousin, a Black African immigrant who moved to England 10 years ago and carried over into the diaspora her fascination with African Pentecostal prophets: “Where did your prophet obtain a chemistry bachelor’s degree?”
In the past, I’d be furious at my cousin. Now I’m merely annoyed. The facts are, as scientist Mark Lynas, a fellow at Cornell University explains: Vaccines train our immune systems and do not re-write our DNA.
I ignored my cousin until January, when Twitter imposed a ban on Donald Trump´s 88-million-strong followership account. The fear was his rhetoric could spur worse violence.
I remembered my cousin, and I was astonished: Why, then, won’t Twitter, Facebook and YouTube also ban popular, Europe-diaspora, medicine-claims charlatan “prophets?” I’m talking of dangerous and dubious pastors like my cousin’s.
Medical doomsday prophets
London’s Black African diaspora Pentecostal churches are so popular, declared the Voice of America in 2019, marveling at how they can attract up to 20 000 worshippers in a weekend. Popular too is the online medical misinformation dispensed via Twitter, Facebook Live and YouTube-hosted television channels by some of the same charismatic churches here in Europe.
Here are examples of the prophets’ reckless medical claims that span an arc from mainland Africa to the millions of religious African diaspora in Europe, and vice-versa.
“He announced via Twitter and Facebook that he had developed a drug capsule that cures the HIV-AIDS infection in 14 days.”
In 2018, one Walter Magaya, a colorful “Christian” prophet with millions of followers in Europe and abroad in Africa, announced via Twitter and Facebook that he had developed a drug capsule that cures the HIV-AIDS infection in 14 days and that has tested his concoction on “patients.” He only deleted his scientific lies after the World Health Organization and diplomats rebuked him. His Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts remain untouched by the tech giants in California.
What was more startling was the emergence of paid, superbly coordinated digital and human chat-bots on Twitter that were programmed ahead. In minutes, they quickly sprung to endorse the so-called HIV “cure.” Of course, the prophet’s end goal is immense self-enrichment.
Now, amidst a push to vaccinate millions and drive down the pandemic, another African diaspora-focused prophet, one Emmanuel Makandiwa, has torched a storm. He cautions via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook that his followers in the diaspora in Europe and at home in Africa must not take the COVID-19 vaccines because the medicines are “poison.” Of course, this is biologically idiotic. Again, his Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts are flourishing, unrebuked.
Harming gullible worshippers
These prophet purveyors of hoax medical claims damage belief in scientific treatments. They cause some of their gullible followers to abandon their life-saving medication for dubious “cures.” Religious prophets and their internet chat-bots are fueling HIV medication stoppages and treatment-resistant variants of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
“As Africans, our other enemy toward ending AIDS by 2030 remains unethical prophets and faith healers who lie to worshippers.”
Thabisa Sibanda, a cancer physician and HIV treatment researcher and himself an African diasporan in Melbourne, Australia, told me soberly: “As Africans, our other enemy toward ending AIDS by 2030 remains unethical prophets and faith healers who lie to worshippers that they should stop taking hospital drugs and choose ‘holy water.’”
“As social media technologies expand, fake cures and claims are a lucrative money-making scam for prophet sellers of dubious medicines and patents,” he said. “Prophets are crucial sources of propaganda to drive sales. I push back online whenever some ignorant snake-oil salesman turns up any unproven therapy. Medicines are licensed through clinical trials, not Twitter threads or YouTube church sermons.”
A Trump-like ban?
It would be fair to extend the Trump-like Twitter bans to these diaspora-focused prophets who hawk fake medical claims. But Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, with their armies of human and robotic censors, don’t move on the prophets aggressively.
Is it because unlike Trump, these prophets don’t pull the clout and visibility of 88 million followers? Is it because of their smaller Twitter followership that these prophets don’t have the commercial advertising power that appeals to Twitter? Advertising, the lifeblood of Twitter, generated $2.99 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2019. Perhaps Twitter thinks: If the fake medicine claims prophets don’t generate as many advertising eyeballs as the 88-million Trump account, no one cares if these charlatans can go on unrestrained.
One of the fears necessitating the Trump Twitter and Facebook bans was that a likely mentally erratic presidentalso was the custodian of the world´s most sensitive nuclear bomb codes.
These anti-vaccine hoax prophets don’t possess nuclear briefcases. However, by their Twitter, YouTube,or Facebook vaccine conspiracy theory sermons, they spread immense community harm. They need a ban too.
Joylean M. Baro is a humanitarian, independent writer and African diasporan living in England.