In its quest to combat the scourge of “fake news,” big tech platforms like YouTube have vowed to crack down on inaccurate or harmful medical information, such as anti-vaccine content. Now, it’s setting its sights on content that advocates for drinking bleach to treat autism, reportedly removing videos that promote it as a “cure.”
The idea that bleach can serve as a cure for autism was initially promoted by Jim Humble, a fringe religious group leader known for peddling a “miracle” substance called Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), which he claimed cured his malaria while he was working in South America. MMS consists of sodium chlorite and an acidic substance, such as lemon juice; when mixed together, the two form chlorine dioxide, which is most commonly used as an industrial bleach. In high doses, the substance has been known to cause nausea, vomiting, severe dehydration, and even kidney failure.
Although the FDA has issued numerous warnings about the effects of MMS (and although Humble himself has publicly admitted that the substance “cures nothing”), there are still numerous videos on YouTube of Humble promoting the substance as a cure for, among other things, autism, according to a Business Insider investigation; the report also found that the videos were easily accessible on the platform, coming up as a top result in searches for terms like “autism” and, in some cases, racking up millions of views.
There are also a number of private Facebook groups advocating for using MMS or other forms of sodium chlorite as a cure for autism. Such groups, which overlap a great deal with anti-vaccine content, contain shocking testimonials from mothers who administer these treatments to their autistic children, reporting horrifying adverse reactions; in one particularly appalling case, a mother of a six-year-old autistic boy was reportedly investigated by police after giving him a bleach enema, which led to him having his bowel removed and needing a colostomy bag.
In response to reports of such content, many big tech platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, which owns YouTube, have issued public statements vowing to crack down on such content. In March, Amazon banned a number of books promoting bleach as an autism cure, including one by MMS proponent Kerri Rivera; when reached by Business Insider earlier this month, YouTube said it had removed many of the videos, writing that its “Community Guidelines prohibit content intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm, and we work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate these policies.”
Nonetheless, many of the videos are still fairly easy to find on YouTube, with duplicate channels popping up from MMS proponents. One such channel, MMSTestimonialsUnofficial, features a banner on many of its videos, which states that the purpose of the channel is to “recover, preserve, and promote video testimonials from the original MMStestimonials channel and other research concerning Chlorine Dioxide and related topics that are being censored by YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.” Rolling Stone has reached out to YouTube for comment, and will update if we hear back.