Lahaina, Hawaii – When a devastating wildfire tore through Maui last August, it left a whole town reduced to ashes and claimed more than 100 lives. The catastrophe was labeled as the “largest natural disaster in state history.” However, amidst the aftermath, some influencers on Instagram began spreading conspiracy theories without evidence, suggesting that the fires were intentionally caused by the government.
Wellness influencers with large followings, such as @truth_crunchy_mama and @drmercola, propagated unfounded claims that the wildfires were not natural but rather deliberate actions connected to a climate change agenda or a land development scheme. These influencers, who fall under the umbrella of wellness accounts, have a wide range of influence, from alternative health and fitness to new age spirituality. This alarming trend of spreading misinformation has been a growing concern, especially as these influencers leverage the aesthetically pleasing nature of their posts to push much darker narratives and conspiracy theories.
The merging of wellness, disinformation, and conspiracy has become increasingly prominent, with the pandemic serving as a catalyst for the proliferation of anti-vax sentiment and now, climate change denial. As a result, these influencers are not only exposing their large audiences to misinformation but also undermining efforts to address the urgent crisis of climate change.
The phenomenon has raised questions about the significant impact of wellness influencers on societal beliefs and behaviors, particularly among younger and impressionable audiences who may be encountering climate misinformation for the first time through these platforms. The collision between wellness and conspiracy theories has become a cause for concern, with the potential to sway public opinion and hinder meaningful action to address the climate crisis.
In addition, the perceived authenticity and intimacy cultivated by these influencers create a one-sided connection with their followers, reinforcing the believability of their misinformation. Their ability to speak “truth to power” and project an outsider image contributes to the appeal of their conspiracy messages, providing followers with a sense of agency and belonging within a community that promulgates fringe perspectives on climate change.
This alarming trend of wellness influencers spreading climate misinformation is part of a broader issue within the wellness industry, which has undergone significant growth and evolution over the years. The industry’s focus on individualism, self-enlightenment, and a distrust of institutions has provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories to take root.
The impact of climate misinformation spread by wellness influencers extends beyond mere beliefs; it has the potential to depoliticize individuals, sow distrust in climate policies, and reach new and younger audiences who may be susceptible to these misleading narratives. As a result, efforts to counter this misinformation are crucial, and there is a growing call for more transparency and regulation on social media platforms to address this pressing issue.