How our deceptive cancer cure video went viral and reminded people to be skeptical

Videos promoting unproven cancer cures spread like wildfire on social media, so the people at the Office for Science and Society created one of their own with a twist ending

A month ago, a former coworker of mine sent me a two-minute video from a Facebook account called “Let’s Beat Cancer” which claimed that a cure for cancer was discovered 84 years ago. You see, according to this video, a man by the name of Royal Rife discovered that every organism vibrates at a specific frequency. If you know the frequency of, let’s say, a virus that causes cancer, you can disintegrate it with radio waves calibrated at just that frequency and voilà! No surgery. No drugs. No more cancer.

The video is rife with inaccuracies and omissions. Most cancers are not caused by viruses (only about 12 per cent are). Organisms don’t vibrate at a specific frequency. Moreover, the father of this theory, called “radionics”, died of pneumonia, which he couldn’t treat with his radionic device, nor could he cure both of his wives of their cancers. Oops.

But this easily digestible video, laced with conspiracy thinking and praising the potency of radio waves to annihilate cancer, was viewed over six million times on social media. Six million times.

We could combat videos like these with long articles denouncing the falsehoods and replacing them with actual science, but virality often shies away from written pieces. So we made a subversive video instead. You can view it at the bottom of this article.

Five people agreed to post the video natively on either Facebook or Twitter, with no direct ties linking the video to us. On the outside, it looked like just another cancer cure video but, of course, if you watch it until the end, you realize you’ve been taken in. The moral of the story is that anyone can make videos nowadays: these videos can lie to you, omit important information, distort the truth, and push a specific narrative that is made more convincing by the use of old-fashioned photographs.

As of this writing, our video has reached over 8.3 million people across all platforms. By our standards, this is remarkable and genuinely unexpected. Of course, it can’t compare with viral clips quacking about easy solutions to complicated diseases. But with more than 116,000 shares, our little reminder to be skeptical has undoubtedly left the comfort of our own echo chamber and reached the kinds of people who needed to see it.

Now, if you are interested in this cancer-curing moss, we do sell it on our website. We have a sale right now: two vials for the price of three.

Trust us. We’re words on the Internet.

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Dr. Barry Pless
5 years ago

I am pissed. I fully agree that these deceptive ads are despicable. But I am distressed that Jarry, and the MOSS, have not brought their reactions to the attention of Health Canada and used their considerable influence to force Health Canada to take a strong stand against permitting such ads. I have tried to do so repeatedly with various ads that appeared in the Gazette and actually succeeded in having one withdrawn. But I have NOT succeeded in getting Health Canada or any other Branch of the Federal government whose mandate includes preventing such false advertising to act forcefully and… Read more »

Jean Rutka
5 years ago

I think Health Canada should search out these charlatans who prey on gullible, desperate people and expose them, and these people should be fined a large amount, and/or go to prison for a long time. Many of their victims die, isn’t that considered murder. McGill Faculty go Medicine should be in the forefront to fight this problem.