A spokesperson for Mercola disputed that his website published misinformation, adding: “Dr. Mercola has been subjected to harassment from Bill Gates’ front groups like TBIJ for some time, and your direct conflict of interest and self-appointed title of ‘Ministry of Truth’ is ridiculous.”
The work of the Bureau is funded by 20 organisations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bureau has never given itself the title “Ministry of Truth”.
Alex Kasprak, a senior writer at the fact-checking site Snopes who covers science, believes Mercola’s influence goes far beyond his owned and operated pages on social media.
“Ultimately if you follow the claims back, it has its origins in a Mercola article,” he said. “The talking point emerges even when he himself does not emerge as the source on Facebook. It’s an indication of his power … or it’s an indication of Facebook’s inability to act in a way that is effective.”
Mercola appears to have done quite well from spreading misinformation. According to a 2017 affidavit cited in The Washington Post, Mercola was worth more than $100m, derived mainly from his network of private companies.
The financial benefits of Nepute’s activities online are less clear. But his success in building an online presence is easy to see. Nepute had just 8,000 followers at the end of February last year. Over the course of April 2020, when his misinformation first caught the attention of fact checkers, he added more than 335,000 followers. Despite the fact checks and FTC warning, he has since added a further 130,000 followers.
His goal, stated on his Facebook page, is to send out one million bottles of “free” vitamins.
Kasprak believes Mercola and Nepute are “absolutely” in the misinformation game to make money, but says they may believe what they say.
“Perhaps with both of them there has to be some sort of self justification if you are going to be a living human being. You have to convince yourself you are actually helping the world.”