The global wellness business is now worth $4.2 trillion, and many parts of the industry help people to live a more fulfilling life. But in our hyper-connected world, the path to health is often paved with conflicting information, confusion and conspiracy. Every day, billions of people are exposed to fringe ideas and unproven concepts, amplified by social media. 

A number of political and business forces are at play, capitalizing on the growth of the wellness industry, seeking to exploit the most vulnerable and create mistrust between us and our healthcare systems.

Once a person makes an initial leap of bad faith – such as campaigning against vaccines – they are more likely to make another. “Bad ideas don’t happen in isolation,” says Dr David Grimes, a cancer researcher and vaccine advocate at Oxford University, explaining how conspiracy theorists and proponents of alternative health theories cross-pollinate online. “You have to find a way of nullifying mountains of evidence against your position.” 

The stakes have never been higher. Yet institutions, healthcare practitioners, and doctors are now afraid to post online about vaccines for fear they will be attacked for advocating for them.

“You start to really hate your job,” said Dr. Chad Herrman, a paediatrician in Pittsburg who was subjected to a virulent anti-vaccine campaign in 2017. “You go down this rabbit hole of insanity, it’s kind of like the five stages of grief: you go through anger, denial, bargaining. It’s physically and mentally exhausting.” 

As online platforms like Facebook and Instagram become ever more powerful centers for anti-science ideas to proliferate, Coda Story will examine the networks that seek to destroy trust, sow divisions, and profit from fear.

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