Anuj Chopra and Marisha Goldhamer
A fugitive Chinese billionaire plans to auction "unvaccinated sperm" on an online platform rife with misinformation, a sale that vaccine sceptics bill optimistically as a chance to buy the "next Bitcoin."
The sales pitch that sperm from uninoculated men will be in high demand, and therefore fetch top dollar, stems from the widely debunked conspiracy theory that Covid-19 jabs cause mass infertility.
Guo Wengui, a tycoon exiled in the US who was recently arrested for alleged fraud, is putting that pitch to the test with his much-hyped auction slated for June on the fringe platform Gettr.
"Sperm and eggs from our fellow fighters will be auctioned on our Gettr platform between June 1 and June 6," Guo said in a live stream in February.
The tycoon, a cult-like figure who is wanted in China and closely tied to Donald Trump's former political advisor Steve Bannon, claimed to have already stored nearly 6 000 eggs and a "few million sperm" from unvaccinated supporters.
"We will auction off the best sperm and eggs, including of course my own sperm," he said, adding that trading will be allowed in digital currencies and be open to all races and ethnicities.
It remains unclear whether the auction will go ahead following the arrest earlier this month of Guo, who faces federal charges that he defrauded thousands of online followers of some $1 billion.
But the planned sale has generated buzz on Gettr, where the tycoon's supporters have hailed it as a "new era for humanity."
"Giving unvaccinated sperms or eggs not only is an honourable way to gain wealth, but also will save the future of humanity," said a Gettr post that endorsed Guo.
The post featured a photo with a hand-scrawled message: "Unvaxxed sperm is the next Bitcoin."
"This auction plays off a broader false narrative that Covid-19 vaccines have harmed fertility," John Gregory, health editor at the watchdog NewsGuard, told AFP.
"Anti-vaccine misinformers pushed that claim even in the face of an abundance of medical studies showing that the vaccines don't hurt male or female fertility," he said.
Guo, who goes by other names including Miles Guo, himself is an adherent to the false claim.
The New Federal State of China, an anti-Chinese Communist Party lobby group created by Guo, has also repeatedly made unfounded statements such as "vaccines are a bioweapon".
Guo's aides are tight-lipped about the auction. When asked about it this week, a NFSC spokeswoman told AFP to expect a response within 10 minutes, but did not reply and stopped responding to reminders.
Gettr, a right-wing social media company which the US media said was initially bankrolled by Guo, did not respond when asked whether it would allow the auction.
In his live stream, Guo vowed to make struggling Gettr the first global platform to trade sperm and eggs from unvaccinated people.
He pledged to use "scientific methods" for verification and said a letter from an attorney will be required to confirm that the traders are unvaccinated, without giving further details on testing or storage.
But some Gettr staff have expressed scepticism about turning the platform into such a marketplace, noting hurdles, including legal restrictions on the sale of semen in other countries, Rolling Stone magazine reported.
If Gettr were to proceed, the platform will likely tap into the "pure bloods," a shadowy global movement spawned by vaccine misinformation.
Wrongly asserting that Covid-19 vaccines "contaminate" the body, adherents of the movement use online forums to seek out blood, sperm and even breast milk from unvaccinated donors.
Profit from falsehoods
The online chatter appears to have fuelled a belief among vaccine sceptics that the sperm represents a lucrative financial opportunity.
"The real money is in unvaccinated sperm," said a post on Gettr.
"It's the new white gold," it added, using the hashtag "unvaccinated and proud."
In another sign of interest, "unvaccinated sperm available" mugs and T-shirts have gone on sale on Amazon and eBay.
Indonesia's health ministry in February rejected a fabricated article shared on Facebook and Twitter that said the sperm of unvaccinated men "will be highly valuable in the future," AFP fact checkers reported.
Another social media user suggested that if a "sperm bank for the unvaccinated" ever opened, he could get rich.
"It's only a 'precious commodity' if a person has bought into the false narrative that Covid-19 vaccination harms fertility," Gregory said.
"This auction fits with an established pattern where anti-vaccine misinformers sell products to profit from their false claims," he said.