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.
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.
“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.”