E-commerce vendors selling products that claim to protect U.S. consumers against electromagnetic fields have incorporated 5G misinformation into a multi-platform marketing strategy
Catering to consumers looking to guard themselves against coronavirus, numerous e-commerce websites and social media pages have been established to sell a wide variety of products that deceptively claim to protect U.S. consumers by supporting their immune system’s ability to counter electric and magnetic fields (EMF) radiation.
The DFRLab identified two businesses, EMF Harmony and EMF Protector, that are simultaneously authoring, and amplifying content warning of negative health effects caused by 5G, while running a deceptive advertising campaign by using Facebook and Amazon’s vendor services to hawk plug-ins, machines, and clothing that allegedly protect against 5G-related EMFs. The vendors state without evidence that the product can boost the immune system to fight COVID-19. In this instance, misinformation related to EMFs is being used to mislead and fear-monger consumers to increase profits.
It is unlawful in the United States to advertise that a product can prevent human disease unless one possesses competent reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies substantiating that the claims were true at the time they are made. In 2002, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged two companies that sold devices purported to protect users from electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the FTC has received over 131,000 complaints about COVID-19-related scams. It has also sent over 250 warnings to U.S. businesses that claimed their products could protect against or treat COVID-19, including a cease and desist notice to BioElectricShield, an online EMF retailer that claimed its products could protect consumers against COVID-19.
The convergence of COVID-19, EMF, and 5G misinformation
Environmental exposure to man-made EMFs has steadily increased as growing demand for power and connectivity has increased the number of sources. Every human is exposed to a complex mix of weak EMFs from the generation and transmission of electricity for domestic appliances and industrial equipment to telecommunications and broadcasting, but, to date, no adverse health effects from low-level, long-term exposure to EMFs has been confirmed.
“Electromagnetic hypersensitivity” (EHS) is a claimed sensitivity to EMFs that results in a diffuse collection of negative health impacts, ranging from headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue, and loss of libido. While not a recognized medical diagnosis, numerous public and private groups of multiple sizes have coalesced on Facebook to discuss the adverse health effects of EMFs, to engage in anti-EMF activism, and to offer support and protective solutions to others claiming to experience EHS.
From March 2020 onwards, a prominent internet rumor emerged that linked the development of 5G technology to the global spread of COVID-19. During this period, prominent U.S. celebrities such as Woody Harrelson and Wiz Khalifa amplified the narrative that COVID-19 and 5G are linked. Facebook served as one of the primary vectors for the spread of that misinformation.
The top result for content containing the term “EMF” on BuzzSumo, a social media monitoring tool, in the United States over the past year is a YouTube video claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax designed to impose a global dictatorship, which the author links to 5G-related EMF waves. The post received roughly 7,100 impressions across the platform and appeared without a content moderation label.
As conversations played out across U.S. social media, a prominent narrative emerged linking COVID-19 to the EMF radiation emitted by 5G cells. A Google trend analysis of the term “EMF” between February 15 and July 31, 2020, showed that queries in the United States for both terms spiked as broad swaths of the nation were advised to self-quarantine.
A Google trends analysis of related queries to “EMF” over the same time period demonstrated that those who googled “EMF” often were looking for information on how to protect themselves from it, with “EMF protection,” “EMF radiation,” and “EMF meter” all among the top five search results.
From conspiracy to cash: EMF Harmony and EMF Protector
Established in November 2019, EMF Harmony is based in Boulder, Colorado, the DFRLab verified the location of the vendor using urlscan.io, a website that provides information about domain registration and page traffic. EMF Harmony began running 16 sponsored advertisements connected to its Facebook Business page in July 2020 — all the sponsored posts claim that the products are designed to support consumer health by countering 5G radiation.
In parallel, EMF Harmony created and published content through its Facebook page claiming that its products can support the consumers’ immune system; the posts included direct references to the “global pandemic” and “5G radiation.” The vendor likely used the language “global pandemic” as opposed to “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” to avoid Facebook’s content moderation mechanisms. While these posts received little engagement, they are an attempt to capitalize on fear and uncertainty to drive consumers off the platform and onto its external website where they can purchase the products.
Facebook lists HelloChakra, LLC, located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as the owner of EMF Protector in its page transparency information. The DFRLab verified that this location is possibly misleading, as its ownership is a nesting doll of faceless LLCs and a company that provides aged shelf corporations to those who want to remain detached from direct association with their own company. The use of such a company makes the company’s precise location of operation difficult to discern.
HelloChakra LLC is a limited liability company (LLC), a type of business in the United States that blends partnership and corporation: the principal, or “registered agent,” of an LLC is the person liable for the company. Capital Administrations, LLC, is the principal of HelloChakra, LLC, and Capital Administrations principal is Corporate Agents, LLC, whose registered agent is Wyoming Corporate Services Inc.
According to its website, Wyoming Corporate Services Inc. is a financial service based at 1712 Pioneer Avenue in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and assists domestic and international customers in establishing shell and shelf corporations across 22 states. Wyoming does not require that the names of shareholders be filed with the state, so LLCs can elect a nominee agent to represent the business in tax and legal affairs. Incorporators such as Wyoming Corporate Services Inc. act as registered agents en masse for those seeking to disassociate their identity from their business. In addition to using this service to form HelloChakraLLC, the page owners opted to use Wyoming Corporate service’s “public address record service,” which provides an address and suite to be used on the public record, as opposed to the businesses owners’ actual address.
The page operators likely chose to incorporate in Cheyenne strategically, using this service, because of the anonymity and limited liability afforded to them under state law, while appearing to be based in Cheyenne. Further, Wyoming has relatively lower and fewer taxes and incorporation fees, indicating that cost played a deciding role.
Unlike EMF Harmony, EMFProtector’s sponsored Facebook advertising campaign promotes headphones that allegedly repel 99 percent of EMF radiation, but its ads do not specifically reference 5G nor claim that the product boosts immunity.
However, EMFProtector’s Facebook page creates and publishes content supporting the idea that EMF radiation weakens the immune system and can cause a host of negative health effects.
Notably, EMFProtector posted a self-authored article claiming that EMFs weaken the immune system and can potentially make COVID-19 worse. This content is intended to drive consumers to EMFProtector’s website, which sells the aforementioned headphones as well as boxers that supposedly protect the wearer from EMFs. Over the course of this investigation, HelloChakra, LLC, changed the name of their business to “Atomsure” and updated its external link to https://atmosure.com, which sells a singular product: a branded hoodie that allegedly protects its wearer from EMFs.
Primetime: EMF protection products for sale on Amazon
Both EMF Harmony and EMF Protector are also active on Amazon’s online marketplace, where both vendors are listed as Amazon Prime retailers. EMF Harmony is also enrolled in Amazon’s Sponsored Products service.
“Sponsored Products” is a cost-per-click advertising service offered to vendors as a service by Amazon, which uses automated targeting and search optimization to match consumer queries and trends to relevant sponsored products. Advertisements for sponsored products reach customers as they shop on Amazon through prioritized images and reviews of the relevant sponsored products, which end up at the top of search results. Vendors who use the Sponsored Products service notionally yield increased sales and brand awareness due to the improved visibility, as the platform more efficiently connects vendors to customers.
When a product is listed with an Amazon Prime tag, the vendor is enrolled in Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA), a service offered by the platform that allows vendors to access Amazon’s supply chains. Vendors using FBA pre-package their products and send them directly to Amazon warehouses, where they are stored as inventory until ordered, allowing Amazon to ship the products directly to consumers. The Prime marker also indicates that EMF protection products are currently stocked in Amazon warehouses across the United States and continue to be sold, allowing these businesses selling scam products to remain open as de facto “essential businesses” while other businesses that are not directly a part of Amazon’s supply chains and not selling fraudulent products have shuttered.
To measure the general proliferation of products in the Amazon marketplace that protect consumers from 5G-related EMFs, the DFRLab used the following Google search string: “site:amazon.com intitle:emf AND 5G” to compile a list of Google results for Amazon products that contain the terms “5G” and “EMF” in their title description. Next, the DFRLab used SerpApi to download the results and calculate the total number of products. There are currently 219 products, ranging from literature to blankets and stickers to crystals, all of which are listed for sale on Amazon and claim to block 5G-related EMFs from consumers.
Amazon does hold medical supply vendors to standards set by the FTC — for example, it specifically bans the sale of rife machines, a low-EMF generator that some claim (without evidence) can cure cancer. Facebook similarly restricts deceptive advertising in its sponsored posts and, furthermore, has made public promises to label content that links conspiracies around 5G with COVID-19. Despite federal regulation and the platforms’ own vendor guidelines, however, this sort of deceptive advertising continues to spread among paid and unpaid posts throughout the digital marketplace.
Jacqueline Malaret is Program Assistant with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
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