McGill Alert / Alerte de McGill

Updated: Fri, 07/12/2024 - 12:16

McGill Alert. The downtown campus will remain partially closed through the evening of Monday, July 15. See the Campus Safety site for details.

Alerte de McGill. Le campus du centre-ville restera partiellement fermé jusqu’au lundi 15 juillet, en soirée. Complément d’information : Direction de la protection et de la prévention

Subscribe to the OSS Weekly Newsletter!

Contrarians Are Selling You This Dietary Supplement on Telegram—Except It’s Not Them

In the unregulated Wild West of freedom-loving social media platforms, a con game is set on the backs of those who have sown dissent

I did a double take. Was Dr. Pierre Kory endorsing weight loss supplements on his Telegram channel?

As mainstream social media companies like Twitter and Meta (the home of Facebook and Instagram) started to reluctantly kick the worst disinformers off their platforms during the pandemic, these exiled influencers migrated to less regulated online spaces. Telegram has been called “the anti-Facebook:” a mostly-one-way bullhorn for freedom lovers. Donald Trump Jr. joined Telegram in January 2021. His channel now has three quarters of a million subscribers.

I have been keeping tabs on many COVID deniers, minimizers, and anti-vaxxers on Telegram, as their freer expression there serves as a bellwether for the next misinformation wave. Dr. Pierre Kory infamously rose to prominence throwing his weight behind the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin and claiming it was a miraculous preventative and treatment for COVID-19. There he now was, apparently, banging the drum on Telegram for “miracle pills” called Meticore.

There was something off, though, about his post. It began with a quotation mark whose twin never materialized, and the text had clearly been written by someone who, unlike Kory, was not fluent in English (“You don’t know what will tomorrow bring”). I looked up Kory’s other social media accounts for a similar mention of Meticore: Gab, Instagram, his Substack blogging page, and Twitter. Nothing.

meticore bottle

In trying to confirm that this was indeed Kory’s official Telegram account, I found out that it wasn’t. Even though the channel I had subscribed to was called “Pierre_Kory_Official,” Kory himself tweeted out that his Telegram posts could be found at “PierreKoryFLCCCofficial.” The fake channel, however, was wearing Kory’s face as a mask. Quite literally in the case of the profile photo, but also in its very first post, where the anonymous and unidentifiable owner of the channel wrote, “My name is Pierre Kory and I am a Critical Care Physician,” proceeding to describe his alleged quest to share his secrets on Telegram in the face of mounting censorship.

The fake Kory channel hid its spam well. It shared many genuine videos of Kory himself and his acolytes, along with text posts about Dr. Fauci and the vaccines developed at “Warp speed.” If you had been fooled, as I had been, into thinking this was Dr. Pierre Kory’s official megaphone, you might be tempted to give this mysterious Meticore supplement a try.

This grift, however, did not stop at impersonating Kory. Why indeed put all of your eggs in the same basket?

My search led me down a long rabbit trail where prominent anti-vaxxers, misinformers, and right-wing politicians and pundits have their identity usurped to sell Trump-branded memorabilia, a very specific survivalist medical book, and an enigmatic natural supplement I was told could save my life.

Trust us. We are accounts on the Internet.

“The world is changing, nothing will be the same,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apparently wrote on Telegram. “The new way of life in the world started with COVID-19. There will be NO DOCTORS – your life will be in DANGER !!” The solution? “BUY 6-12 bottles of METICORE & thank me later.”

The Telegram channel is called DoctorRFK. Kennedy, one of the loudest voices of the modern anti-vaccination movement, is not a doctor in real life, and this channel now describes itself as “unofficial.” But scrolling back to its very first post, it is clear that its administrator wanted to pose as the anti-vaccine maverick. “I am Robert F. Kennedy Jr. patriot, author, conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine advocate.” A little on the nose, but it did manage to rope in 2,371 followers. A less successful RFK lookalike channel, RobertKennedyChannell, also grifts for Meticore, but the charade doesn’t end there.

Joe Rogan has become one of the most influential dealers of anti-vaccine misinformation in recent years, with a podcast reaching millions of people. A fake Telegram channel called JoeRoganReal has amassed nearly 50,000 followers and in between posters for his stand-up comedy shows and a reposting of his N-word apology, we can see Joe Rogan apparently endorsing Trump-branded memorabilia cards meant to look like golden credit cards; a book called Home Doctor; and the supplement Meticore. At least three more sham Rogan accounts advertise Meticore, sometimes calling it Melania Trump’s weight loss solution, sometimes Kim Kardashian’s. Dr. Christiane Northrup, who promotes a mess of New Age beliefs and COVID-19 misinformation, and Joe Mercola, the Internet’s supplement king, have also had their likenesses imitated to sell this supplement on Telegram. Underneath a Photoshopped image of Mercola made to look like an appearance on The Daily Ledger, accompanied by a before-and-after photo montage of a slimming Donald Trump next to bottles of Meticore, Mercola apparently writes about Meticore that “when you get rid of all these things” the supplement is meant to cure, “you’ll be PROTECTED by COVID-19!” Clearly, Meticore has not protected the writer from basic grammatical mistakes.

Given the political right-wing’s leaning towards pseudoscientific solutions to the pandemic, you will not be surprised to learn that FOX host Sean Hannity and members of the Trump family have been spoofed on Telegram to lure Trumpists and conspiracy theorists onto the Meticore website. The channel Hannity_Sean, which has accumulated over 78,000 followers, posted on May 10 that Meticore helped actor and director Mel Gibson lose weight and can also fight “the vicious virus.” The post was seen by 21,500 Telegram users. A fake Melania Trump channel tells its followers Meticore stocks are very low so order now, and there’s a telltale letter left all by itself in the middle of the post: Q.

Meticore’s legend morphs in the telling. On some channels, it was developed by Donald Trump himself or by his doctor. On others, Meticore is said to be a contraction of “Me” for Melania, “T” for Trump, and “Core” for stronger together. Appeals to QAnon, Pepe the Frog, and Dr. Peter McCullough are made, depending on who the target audience is.

The people who run these Telegram channels are concealed by the platform, and channels are, as a rule, not easily verified by Telegram itself to confirm they are run by who they say they are. Combined with a laissez-faire moderation policy that seems to only curb illegal pornography and calls for violence, Telegram has become a hoaxer’s dream fishing spot. These scam artists don’t simply ride the coattails of conspiracy-minded influencers to benefit from their reach; they become these influencers to peddle herbal supplements and DIY medical books.

Because it’s not just Meticore. Many of these fake Telegram channels were also asking their followers to buy a very specific book. It’s called Home Doctor: Practical Medicine for Every Household and is seemingly written by three medical doctors, one of whom had to develop “new, ingenious methods of treating patients after Venezuela’s economy collapsed.” The contents of the book seem, from its long teaser, to contain a mixed bag of genuine first aid tips and pseudoscientific folk remedies. It will teach you to recognize a natural painkiller growing in your own backyard, to detox overnight with half an onion in a sock, and to use leeches medicinally “just like folks 100 years ago.”

The way in which this book is sold to Telegram users who are fans of Sean Hannity is that the end of the world is coming and medical supplies will disappear. Therefore, you have to become your own doctor. This end-times prepper mentality is actually boldly spelled out on the website selling Home Doctor, in what is the funniest disclaimer I have ever read: “We do not recommend or advocate the everyday use of pet or fish antibiotics. We suggest stockpiling these antibiotics and using them only in case of an extraordinary event like an Apocalypse that changes the World as we know it, leading to the collapse of society, medical system, law and order AND the dissolution of the social fabric.”

Basically, do not use these antibiotics only if the medical system collapses. You must wait for the dissolution of the social fabric as well.

Matryoshka grifting

So what exactly is Meticore?

It is a blend of natural products like ginger, curcumin, and African mango that is meant to lower your core temperature, leading to weight loss. The makers of Meticore, like any supplement seller, protect themselves with the disclaimer that nothing they claim has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that their product, sold to address obesity, is not actually intended to treat any disease.

Herbal supplements are easily and frequently contaminated and adulterated, as their marketplace is poorly regulated. Moreover, they are supported by weak evidence, derived from ancestral knowledge, laboratory studies in cells and small animals. Weight loss is not an easy thing to achieve and maintain. Even the financial might of the pharmaceutical industry has only been able to produce pills that can help with weight loss, but they are not miraculous and they come with side effects.

Meticore’s advertising strategy goes beyond masquerading as influencers on Telegram (if it is indeed the company itself that is behind the fake Telegram accounts). It also places sponsored content in local newspapers, like the Seattle Weekly and the Bellevue Reporter. Sponsored content is meant to look like a newspaper article and not like an ad, but it is actually written by promoters of a product or service. It’s an ad masquerading as something more authoritative. Sounds familiar?

These sponsored Meticore ads go one step further in their mimicry: they look like skepticism. When Googling the word “Meticore,” you see what appears to be a lot of local newspapers investigating disturbing claims that Meticore is a scam. The title of one piece reads, “Meticore Reviews – Shocking Details Emerge.” But fear not, these newspapers reassure you when you read the sponsored content, the people complaining about Meticore didn’t actually buy Meticore. They bought a knock-off.

“Please do not buy it from any third party store or e-commerce site,” the sponsored content pleads. “The company says you get the authentic product only from the brand site.” Therefore, any side effect, complaint, or accusations of Meticore being a scam can be explained as having bought a counterfeit product. You got fooled by an impersonation? That’s not our problem. Again, sounds familiar?

I tried to find out who is behind Meticore. I saw iterations of this product on Amazon from a number of sellers like S.O Labs, Vitalina, and Swift Breeze Fitness, where the image of the bottle is the same and the manufacturer simply slapped their name on top of the label. But who originally made and sold Meticore? Most of the fake Telegram posts endorsing the product link to the website (A few others are now dead links, while other posts send consumers directly to the Digistore24 platform that acts an independent intermediary, like Amazon, taking care of the payment.)

Following Meticore’s online trail led to dead ends. The local news sponsored content is “By Marketing By Kevin.” The website domain names for Meticore and for other supplements that seem to be tied to the same company (GlucoTrust and Primal Flow) were all registered by third-party companies like GoDaddy and keep the actual owner’s name hidden. GlucoTrust is said to have been created by a James Walker, but a disclaimer at the bottom of the website reveals him to be a “fictionalized character.” GlucoTrust also benefits from sponsored content meant to look like an investigative report of a scam, and the Tacoma Daily Index states its manufacturer is Maximum Edge Nutrition, both the name of a company that was voluntarily dissolved in 2005 and of a vitamin and supplement store in Jackson, Wyoming, although Google Maps reveals the address to be a condominium building.

The makers of Meticore are ghosts pretending to be the kinds of people you might be inclined to trust. I call this matryoshka grifting. Just like Russian nested dolls reveal the first figure you saw was just an empty shell and contained a different one inside, the grift here is multilayered. It appears like Joe Rogan is endorsing Meticore, but that’s not Joe Rogan. It appears like a reporter is blowing the lid on a scam, but that’s not a reporter. It appears like negative reviews are by people who got fooled by a knock-off, but it’s a carefully orchestrated PR campaign.

None of the victims of this Telegram impersonation scheme are blameless here. There is a reason they were chosen. Joe Rogan and Joe Mercola have endorsed multiple supplements. Pierre Kory has gone against the scientific consensus in advocating for a cheap medication against COVID. And Donald Trump’s proclamations about hydroxychloroquine and using sunlight and cleaning agents as human body disinfectants have tuned his audience to the frequency of secret cures.

These people have encouraged unwarranted distrust in public health authorities and scientific agreements. That their followers are being served fraudulent endorsements of herbal supplements and fake credit cards on a barely moderated platform that favours free speech above all else should not come as a surprise.

Take-home message:
- On Telegram, a barely moderated social media platform that functions like Facebook, many channels impersonate well-known anti-vaxxers and right-wing personalities
- These channels use the traction they get pretending to be someone else to endorse an herbal supplement called Meticore, as well as a survivalist first aid book and Trump-branded souvenirs made to look like gold credit cards
- Meticore is said to be a blend of different herbs and seeds, and there is no rigorous evidence that this blend can help with weight loss


Back to top