In my last post I detailed the scams and lies of social media famous wellness influencers. What I only touched on were the dangerous ideologies that many groups within the wellness industry promote and spread through social media communities. How can meditation groups become anti-vaxxers? What’s the link between sustainable living and white supremacists? Why is your physio spouting anti-Semitic “New World Order” conspiracy theories? These disturbing views are decades, even centuries old. The difference now is that speed and scale of their spread. Social media’s complete lack of regulation means anyone can spread and view these dangerous ideas and breed hate and division all over the world.

This form of radicalisation can easily happen to anyone.

Some are just looking for an informed and supportive community:

A popular topic of discussion online over the last year or two has been the ‘crunchy’ to alt-right pipeline on social media. ‘Crunchy’ is an adjective used to describe someone who leads an altered or alternative lifestyle with a focus on nature and the environment. They may also be known as ‘granola’ mums. Lifestyle choices can range from eating home-grown or local produce; avoiding harmful chemicals and using natural cleaning supplies; incorporating natural remedies and traditional medicine into daily life; forming bonds with nature and community. Wholesome right? It’s especially attractive to parents who want to raise healthy, fulfilled children, but are facing a world of pollution and environmental destruction. There’s also the need to escape the guilt. Parental guilt has also been bread by social media, as every choice about raising children is ruthlessly and publicly scrutinised and attacked.

So maybe they’ll dip their toes into crunchiness. Switch to natural fiber clothing only. Start buying organic. Raise their kids with wellness and nature in mind. There’s nothing wrong with that. The next issue is the algorithm though. Once you’ve shown an interest in ‘natural living’ you’ll be fed related content. Then you’re into the slightly more concerning world of ‘trad-wives‘ and doubting the safety of vaccines. How long before the inevitable rabbit hole? QAnon conspiracies and eco-fascism doesn’t seem so crazy with the correct recruitment methods. The more crazy and inflammatory the social media content, the more the algorithm will spread it. Social media platforms can’t (or won’t) combat it.

Others just want some peace in this increasingly tumultuous world:

There have been numerous reports of alt-right views emanating from yoga, meditation and other “spiritual” groups. There’s even a word for it: Conspirituality. This is the blending of alt-right conspiracies with spiritual teachings and practices. Often the leaders of these groups, whether online or in person, are influential and charismatic, and garner quite the following. Or, conspiracies can spread throughout groups quickly because of the trusting environment and tight-knit relationships that they foster.

Crunchy/Spiritual views have been held by the far right for over a century.

In 19th century Germany, ideas linking naturalism and nationalism were already taking root. It created a drive to turn away from urbanism and modernity and return to the purity of the land so that “Germany remains German“. These ideas were eventually used by the Third Reich to promote their anti-Semitic ideals.

Skip ahead a few decades to the 70s and 80s and we see these same ideas of nature as purity, health and independence re-emerge in the white-power movements in the US. Women especially in these groups promoted ‘crunchy’ behaviour combined with their “traditional” values. The Atlantic article ‘The Crunchy-to-Alt-Right Pipeline’ describes how a white-power group used ‘hippie’ publications’ personal ads to find each other. This is exactly the same thing that is happening now with the wellness industry. Alt-right groups using innocent alternative lifestyle ideas to promote their own insidious messages. Except this time, with the medium being social media rather than niche magazines, the scale is enormous and the damage even more so.

Social media and the pandemic opened the floodgates and made these views almost mainstream.

These are two massively world altering events that have allowed conspiracies to more easily take root in people’s minds. Human society was not prepared for the effects of the sudden arrivals of a pandemic and a life online. Other major pandemics, such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, also had conspiracy and mistrust of scientific authorities circulating around it. These ideas however didn’t have the ability to spread as fast or as far as the Covid-19 ones. It was the combination of our social media-based communication methods now and the pandemic that has caused our current large-scale conspiracy theory mania.