Manipulation and persuasion: Here’s what goes on inside a $600 COVID conspiracy boot camp

Credit: Toronto Sun
Credit: Toronto Sun

Marketplace journalists took part in a U.S. COVID-19 conspiracy “boot camp,” where aspiring activists — including the leader of one of Canada’s prominent misinformation campaigns — learn tactics of persuasion to sow seeds of doubt about information coming from public health authorities. 

Sherri Tenpenny, a Cleveland, Ohio-based osteopath and self-proclaimed grandmother of the anti-vaccination movement in the U.S., runs the six-week online course. She has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and has appeared on popular far-right conspiracy podcasts, such as Infowars. 

CBC journalists signed up for the $623 Mastering Vaccine Info Boot Camp to find out exactly what was being sold to her students.

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The communication tactics are taught primarily by Tenpenny’s business partner, Matthew Hunt, who gives advice on how to ensure students connect with people on a personal level as a persuasion tactic.  

“Understanding the subjective human experience and how each individual stores their VERSION of information is key to unlocking their mind and building trust … and successfully affecting change with them,” his course material reads. 

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“It is about manipulation and persuasion and convincing people of something to simply get them on their side,” said Krishana Sankar, science communications lead with COVID-19 Resources Canada… “It’s extremely frustrating because we are constantly trying to educate people on what’s real.”

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