November 8, 2023 | Cosmopolitan

Cécile Simmons: ‘I debunk wellness misinformation for a living… So, why did I fall for it?’

ISD Research Manager Cécile Simmons’ career focuses on researching online mis- and disinformation with a special focus on elections, climate disinformation and public health. She is also a yoga teacher with an interest in alternative health. During the pandemic, while researching conspiracy crossovers into the health and wellness world, Cécile found herself taking health advice from the very accounts she was researching, and beginning to question medical professional’s motivations. She shares that experience with Cosmopolitan in an op-ed earlier this month.

She writes: “Over the last three years, alongside my side hustle as a yoga teacher with an interest in alternative health, I have professionally tracked conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and vaccines, investigated QAnon, followed far-right provocateurs and climate deniers, and deep-dived into the world of incels and trad wives. My two ‘lives’, as it were, could perhaps seem at odds with one another, but until recently, I believed they worked in perfect harmony – and that the yoga practice helped to take the edge off of the political and sometimes dark nature of my job. A job that also ensured I kept a healthy balance of open-mindedness and sceptical questioning when it came to that aforementioned interest in alternative health methods. Essentially, I had myself down as someone immune to online manipulation.”

In the article, Cécile describes how she started seeing conspiracy theories on QAnon popping up in her yoga classes and personal social media feed.

“Curious to learn more, I started tracking conspirituality and wellness dis- and misinformation, following hundreds of influencers, from meditation coaches and self-styled gut health gurus to free birthers and carnivore bodybuilders who were spreading anti-vaccine views, along with wild claims about malevolent elites hatching plots to enslave the world population. From the first time I clicked that ‘follow’ button, social media platforms’ algorithms made it easy. The recommendations came thick and fast. And by telling myself I was only engaging with the accounts in order to debunk the misinformation they peddled, I glossed over my own vulnerabilities.”

New to motherhood, and with a chronic illness of her own, she began to take health advice from the very accounts she was researching.

“Other questionable assertions started to sound convincing: that gluten/dairy/seed oils are inflammatory, and that mainstream medicine has an interest in keeping you ill. In hindsight, I know that my doctors did their best for me, but at the time it felt like I was taking tablet after tablet and still feeling unwell. With the chorus of the internet’s wellness community buzzing away in the back of my mind, I started to doubt the advice of medical professionals – ones who knew medical records inside-out, at that. The moment I pulled myself back from the brink? Only when I realised was even doubting the motivations of my own sister, who is a GP.”

Her full article is available on Cosmopolitan’s website.