“After an eye exam, my doctor told me I had the beginnings of macular degeneration,” the message begins. “Being a researcher myself, I looked and asked everywhere … Until I stumbled upon this Noble-Prize discovery, which literally changed things 180 degrees! My doctor was shocked to see that my macular degeneration was GONE!”
Each post of the message links to a website where people can supposedly learn more. This website in turn includes a video link through to another website, where the dietary supplement “cure”, VisiClear, is for sale.
The Facebook posts have together been viewed about a million times.
Nobel – not “Noble” – prizes are awarded each year to people who have made advances considered to benefit humankind in six fields, including medicine.
Has a coveted Nobel prize really been given to a vague treatment advertised on Facebook? And is there any evidence it works?
Eye disorder and Nobel-winning research real
Macular degeneration is a deterioration in the eye that leads to partial or total vision loss. It mainly affects people over 50, and there’s currently no cure – although some treatments can slow its progress or reduce its symptoms.
The video eventually linked to is embedded through a player which makes it impossible to do anything other than pause or play, but the original is an unlisted YouTube video. Unlisted videos don’t show up in search results, but can be linked to and shared.
The video is over an hour long, but it begins by telling viewers that “in the next few minutes” they will learn about a Nobel-winning discovery that can reverse vision loss.
The video does cite several studies into the treatment of macular degeneration and other vision problems, including one that involves injecting stem cells into the eye.
The 2012 Nobel prize for medicine was awarded to Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon, for discovering that some stem cells can be “reprogrammed”. One of the applications of this is a treatment for macular degeneration.
None of the studies referenced have shown that the product VisiClear is an effective treatment for macular degeneration or any other vision problems. But someone visiting the site is unlikely to watch the entire video or investigate all of the studies referenced.
Disclaimers point at truth
The website warns that the video will only be online for 24 hours and that viewers may not have long to purchase VisiClear. This is clearly untrue as the Facebook posts linking to it were made in late September 2020, and the site is still online at time of writing.
The 24-hour warning creates a sense of urgency, which may cause viewers not to watch the entire video, or spend time reading the dozens of sources presented.
And finally, buried beneath all of this information, is a disclaimer. It says the site “is not intended to provide specific medical advice, or to claim to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition”.
A separate disclaimer, posted below the video itself, notes that “Neither the website, nor product should substitute medical advice given by a certified health professional”.
It also says that the claims made about VisiClear have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the body which evaluates the effectiveness of medical products in the country.
The page where customers are directed to apply for refunds does not exist.
Products targeting older people
One disclaimer also reveals the name of the company which sells VisiClear: Winarrow.
Despite the branding on products like VisiClear suggesting the company is from the United States, Winarrow is based in Bucharest, Romania. Its LinkedIn page boasts of “over 30 nutritional supplements, information products, as well as a high-end natural health protocols”.
These are not listed on the company website, but many Winarrow health products are easy to find online, as they carry a disclaimer identical to the one on the VisiClear website. These products are all marketed in much the same way as VisiClear.
Many claim to cure age-related conditions, cite research which has not actually been conducted on the product being sold, even reference Nobel prizes, and bombard readers with paragraphs of information or long videos. But in the end are the disclaimers that the products have not been assessed by a regulatory authority.
There is no evidence that VisiClear can reverse macular degeneration or any other vision problems.
And this is likely to be just one example of deceptive advertising by the company which produces VisiClear, hiding disclaimers behind floods of unrelated information and mazes of links. – Keegan Leech
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.