Instagram Wellness and the Spread of Misinformation

Amid a pandemic, influencers are capitalizing on fears and unknowns to spread misinformation to their followers

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If you’ve spent any time on social media and especially on Instagram, you would’ve almost certainly stumbled across wellness accounts, that often boast about healthy eating, healthy life and a healthy wallet.

While often harmless, these types of accounts can shift into dangerous territory as they offer healthy, natural remedies as a way to cure cancer or other serious diseases. Australian influencer, Belle Gibson is one of these people. She reported that she was managing her terminal brain cancer through, diet, exercise, and other alternative methods of treatment. Her company had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, which she claimed she donated a large portion of to charity. However, in 2015, after it was reported she’d fabricated her claims of cancer and treatment, she admitted none of it was true and that she hadn’t donated any money.

Other influencers on social media make some even more wild claims in the name of better health. Suggesting that inserting a jade egg into your vagina will give health benefits, cell phones cause cancer, a deficiency of vitamin B17 is a cause of cancer, vaccines and 5G towers are being used to control the population or even cause Autism. Often with these claims comes an item or device, usually with a large price tag, offering to protect you and make sure you live a long and happy life.

Now, as the world moves through the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these influencers and celebrities are pushing remedies about virus protection that have no basis whatsoever. Not only this, but the cries that 5G is evil have shifted from causing cancer to being a way for targeted virus transmission. When you take a step back and look at the dots that these conspiracy theorists are attempting to connect, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Why do people fall into the wellness rabbit hole?
There is a theme across all of the wellness influencer accounts on Instagram, that they have achieved the perfect body to be as photogenic as possible, as Instagram is based around images. Of course, they want to pass on their secrets to success to you, the follower, often for a price. This idea of a perfect body isn’t new to Instagram or social media, but has definitely pushed it further into the mainstream and helped to create a paranoia over how people can better themselves, even if they were perfectly happy before entering into that world.

This often leads into a narrative that a perfect body is also a “clean” one, allowing for vaccinations to become demonized, because they’re “full of harmful chemicals” and that leads to a polluted body.

This kind of dangerous drive for perfection and spread of misinformation is primarily built around subjects that most people are not an expert in. Most people for example, don’t fully understand 5G or phone signals and how they work. So these influencers take a topic, such as the pandemic, tie it to 5G and fill in the unknowns with their own information, which then rapidly spreads. Dr. Natalia Petrzela has said that the “dark side” of social media and wellness is that it can be build on suspicion.

“The embrace of wellness in our culture is in many ways predicated on mistrust of the [collective] and mistrust of our institutions, and that really rears its head in a moment like this,” she said.

While the world continues to move through this pandemic and also upgrade its communication technologies, it’s important to understand what is good advice/information and what is fake. Follow reliable sources such as the CDC and reputable news outlets for all health updates related to the pandemic and continue to keep yourself and others safe.