Fake 'wellness influencers' have found a new inspiration for conspiracy theories — monkeypox: report

Fake 'wellness influencers' have found a new inspiration for conspiracy theories — monkeypox: report
SARS-CoV-2 in 2021, Wikimedia Commons

When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst in 2020 and 2021, a combination of far-right conspiracy theorists, Christian nationalists and so-called “wellness influencers” added to the death count by pushing bogus, unscientific “cures” and falsely claiming that the lifesaving vaccines being offered by Moderna, Pfizer and others were dangerous. But COVID-19, although still highly infectious, hasn’t been in the headlines as much in recent months — and some fake “wellness influencers” and conspiracy theorists, according to Daily Beast reporter Cécile Simmons, have turned their attention to monkeypox.

“Though little is understood about the mysterious outbreaks of the monkeypox virus in Europe and North America,” Simmons reports in an article published by the Beast on June 15, “scientists agree on one thing: It’s nothing like COVID. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped some influencers in the alternative health and wellness community from repurposing COVID misinformation and using this new public health crisis to further their own agendas.”

Simmons adds, “In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, alt-health and wellness online influencers — from yoga teachers to fitness instructors — became some of the most active propagators of conspiracy theories about COVID-19. With cases now on the decline in much of the West — thanks in no small part to widespread vaccination campaigns — monkeypox has provided new material to rehash the narratives that brought these influencers attention in the early days of COVID, including claims that monkeypox is a plot engineered by global elites to profit from diseases and restrict individual freedoms.”

One of the conspiracy theorists who promoted dangerously false information about COVID-19 during the worst parts of the pandemic was anti-vaxxer Sayer Ji, founder of the alternative medicine website GreenMedInfo.com. In 2022, Simmons reports, Ji has turned his attention to monkeypox.

“Sayer Ji has dedicated his social media channels to making repeated unproven claims about nightmarish vaccine side effects, including death, and that COVID vaccination is a plot masterminded by big pharma and ‘the global government,’” Simmons explains. “And now, with monkeypox on the rise, Sayer Ji has taken to his Telegram channel and Twitter to spread ludicrous claims that monkeypox is the mainstream media’s way of covering up side-effects caused by COVID vaccines to his roughly 50,000 and 11.5k followers, respectively. His Telegram channel includes multiple posts claiming that cases of monkeypox have coincided with the purchase of vaccines by the U.S., among other bizarre theories.”

Another “wellness” influencer/conspiracy theorist pushing wacky claims about monkeypox is Hiighhopess, who, according to Simmons, “recently used her Instagram stories to describe monkeypox as a profiteering ploy manufactured by Bill Gates, and shared claims that the U.S. government is stockpiling vaccines and planning to impose vaccination against monkeypox.”

During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Simmons notes, Hiighhopess, an anti-vaxxer, “used her Instagram channel to share anti-vaccine and anti-mask content, including posts depicting vaccination as a plot by elites to manipulate the public into submission.”

“This repurposing of the COVID playbook by alternative health and wellness gurus should come as no surprise,” Simmons observes. “COVID has provided a blueprint for conspiracy theories, allowing influencers to develop broad-ranging anti-elite and anti-institutional narratives that can be adapted to emerging public health crises. It has also allowed conspiracy-spreaders to use various techniques, including decontextualizing scientific data and cherry-picking facts to give themselves a veneer of credibility.”

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