When the pandemic hit last March, 27-year-old Jennifer*, a childcare worker from Virginia, was furloughed from her job, leaving her with little to do but curl up anxiously on her couch with her phone. She’d spend hours a day scrolling through Facebook and Instagram posts about self-healing, spirituality, and trauma, mostly by wellness types she followed after getting interested in natural medicine a few years back. (“We seemed to be on the same journey,” Jennifer says of her online community. “I’d built up almost a trust with them.”)
But then a new kind of post started appearing in her feed: graphics “in pretty fonts with pretty colors” encouraging her to “Trust the Plan” or to be prepared that “Light Is Coming to Dark.” They were accompanied by an increasing number of posts (all misleading or false) on how COVID-19 was overblown, a hoax, or part of a government scheme to microchip everyone with a vaccine.