A popular app for churches has become an 'anti-vaxx' hotbed: report

An app used by more than 14,000 religious congregations has been turned into a place where anti-vaxxers can spread their conspiracy theories online, Mother Jones reports today.

Subsplash, a tech company founded in 2005 "to glorify God and proclaim Jesus is Lord" by helping churches communicate information online, has now become a major source of vaccine disinformation, the magazine reports.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, Subsplash has given voice to and amplified messages from many religiously affiliated antivaccine activists. On one Subsplash-hosted website called "His Glory Me," viewers can watch videos that urge them not to yield to pressure to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video from a few weeks ago, featured guest chiropractor Dr. Bryan Ardis insists, "The Delta variant is not dangerous." The Church of Glad Tidings' "Free and Brave" video series hosted by Subsplash features noted antivaccine advocates, including Judy Mikovits, the personality behind the "Plandemic" conspiracy theory video. A September 12 video from Subsplash-hosted site Good Life Broadcasting spins theories about ominous connections among vaccines, the government, Bill Gates, and the Chinese Communist Party. Through Subsplash, the American Pastors Network runs a podcast series called "Stand in the Gap," which rails against mandatory vaccines and questions the seriousness of COVID-19. A July episode featured noted purveyor of vaccine misinformation Dr. Robert Malone, who claimed that "we don't have good information" about the vaccines' risks, and that he was being censored in trying to warn people about the potential dangers. Some sites hosted by Subsplash also promotemisinformation around the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, suggesting that it can prevent hospitalization. Other Subsplash sites host videos devoted to the QAnon conspiracy theory."

Subsplash is used by some of the largest churches in the country, small congregations in rural communities, and even a few synagogues, the magazine reports. And its features have expanded:

"Pastors can now use Subsplash to host podcasts, videos, and a tithing and charitable giving widget that allow users to easily donate to the church or other causes. Subsplash apps can send congregants push notifications with service times, daily Bible verses, or anything else their pastors deem worthy. The pandemic has accelerated Subsplash's growth: In March 2020, the company acquired a live streaming service that allowed churches to broadcast services as lockdowns began."

As Mother Jones reports, the app has turned into something far darker than merely a means for churches to communicate their gospel.

"Subsplash's hosting of antivaccine ideology isn't limited to churches. In addition, the company also developed an app for Texans for Vaccine Choice, a powerful antivaccine PAC that has helped Republican state representatives who oppose vaccines to win elections. In a recent Facebook video, Texans for Vaccine Choice director Jackie Schlegel offered an impassioned endorsement. "It's not a fancy-schmancy app," says Schlegel. "But it took a lot of work to find a developer who didn't want to censor us." Earlier in the video, Schlegel describes her own experience of leaving her church because its youth group leaders required kids to wear "masks outside in the summer heat, standing on socially distanced dots as if they were little socialist soldiers."