Instagram Suggested New Users Follow Acct. Linked to 'Guru' Who Taught That Herbs Cured AIDS


Social media algorithms are curious things.

Take what happens when you’re new to a platform.

That platform will always suggest to you who to follow, even though it doesn’t have a particularly good grasp of who you actually are.

Generally speaking, it won’t recommend controversial characters.

If Alex Jones isn’t banned from said platform yet (and is there really any platform the Infowars impresario hasn’t been kicked off of yet?), you probably aren’t going to get any recommendations to follow him or his “nutraceutical” store.

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I don’t think anyone would argue with this.

You probably don’t need someone who tells you that colloidal silver or nascent iodine is what you need to restore your health. I

If you sign up for the Facebook-owned Instagram platform recently, however, you might have been on the receiving end of a recommendation to follow a “guru” who thinks that HIV/AIDS can be cured by herbs.

“In 2004, Michael Jackson was reportedly spending almost $4,000 a day to visit ‘Dr. Sebi,’ a pseudoscientific ‘healer’ who once claimed his herbal remedies could cure everything from AIDS to herpes,” Business Insider reported on Friday.

Do you think social media algorithms are broken?

“Today, Sebi’s bogus potions have found another high-profile promoter: Instagram.”

“The Facebook-owned photo-sharing app has been automatically recommending an account promoting Sebi’s medical misinformation to new users in certain countries, including the United States, Business Insider has found — likely introducing his erroneous theories on human biology to thousands of new people and giving them a worrying veneer of legitimacy,” the article continued.

Sebi is one of a number of charlatans who believe — or at least claim to believe — that your health is dependent on the acidity or alkalinity of your insides.

“Dr. Sebi’s African approach to disease relies on natural botanical remedies to cleanse and detoxify the body, bringing it back to a more alkaline state from the acidity that causes disease and pathology,” his website claims.

“Natural vegetable cell food compounds are an important part of that change. By removing accumulated toxins, and replacing depleted minerals, cell foods can rejuvenate damaged cell tissue, especially those eroded by acidity.”

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“The primary organs affected are the skin, liver, gall bladder, lymph glands, kidneys and the colon. With inclusive nutritional programs designed, not around the pathology, but around the whole person and their diet and health, cell foods are an important part of the nutritional environment of every recovering, responsible and healthy individual.”

This idiocy, by the way, is the basis of the “alkaline diet,” one of those temporally popular food plans which has no basis in scientific fact.

“It’s ridiculous,” Vancouver internist Ali Zentner told Chatalaine. “It’s just the resurfacing of another ‘diet of the day’ and it’s a symptom of a bigger issue. Diets are like a religion — peoAli Zentnerrt it.”

Well, at least we can guess which Richard Dawkins books are in Zentner’s collection. (All of them, most likely.)

“Dr. Sebi’s” ridiculous plan doesn’t even rise to the level of the alkaline diet, however, promoting herbal packages like this $750 package of nonsense:

Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food / screen shot

Are you properly chelated? I know I’m probably not.

“We are always working to identify and reduce the spread of misinformation on Instagram, and actively take steps to reduce its distribution where we can,” Instagram said in a statement to Business Insider.

“We’re looking into whether or not this account is recommendable based on our misinformation policies.”

This investigation should probably have taken two minutes and involved doing exactly what I did: looking at the website of “Dr. Sebi.”

It sounds like that’s what Instagram did.

“We don’t want people to be recommended accounts like this, and so we’ve removed this account from being recommended to people. We appreciate this being brought to our attention,” the company later added to Business Insider.

Still, this is an example of just how flawed social media algorithms are. No, I’m not suggesting that Instagram ought to reinstate Infowars and give the world’s most disreputable water-filter salesman a place to pitch his wares.

(I’m also not aware of any time that “Dr. Sebi” has said that 9/11 was an “inside job” like Jones has.)

However, at the point where algorithms can’t catch swindlers like this nutjob — no matter how popular they may be — I think that we can safely say the system is broken.

This is dangerous misinformation that can cost lives.

People who have serious diseases need treatment, not quack herbal remedies — and that’s exactly what Instagram’s algorithm was promoting.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture