How Social Media Features Parallel Cult Techniques

How would you know if you were in a cult? If not a cult, then at least under undue influence? The truth is, with social media, we’re all under undue influence. In other words, we’re being induced to think and act – either consciously or subconsciously – in ways that may not be fully reflective of our own thoughts and desires. 

On a recent Your Undivided Attention episode, we spoke with cult deprogramming expert Dr. Steven Hassan about the extraordinary parallels between cult techniques and social media features and how we can have sovereignty over our minds.


Social media platforms and cults share a similar underlying goal: influencing people. Social media platforms keep users engaged in order to profit via ad revenue, while cults keep members committed in order to keep power and, in some cases, make money. 

As Dr. Hassan notes, influence is on a continuum. There are “healthy cults” which give informed consent and “authoritarian cults” which pursue undue influence. Many social media practices are closer to the “authoritarian” end of the spectrum since social media companies don’t practice transparency with users (e.g., sharing what data they’re using or how they’re using it).

While social media leaders aren’t cult leaders, nor are all social media users part of a cult, social media’s means to keep users engaged can parallel how cults keep members committed.

Here are a few examples of the parallels:

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Social media is designed to instill dependency and keep us engaged. Knowing this, what exactly can we do? Dr. Steven Hassan offers a  4-step process of reality-testing, the Strategic Interactive Approach, to help people free themselves of undue influence:

  1. Detach from constant reinforcing influences. For example, take a social media sabbatical. 
  2. Learn about Dr. Hassan’s BITE (behaviors, information, thoughts, emotions) model of authoritarian control and assess parallels for your own relationship with social media.
  3. Deliberately seek out “formers” (i.e., those who left a social media platform) and talk to them about their choice.
  4. Evaluate your satisfaction with social media – are you experiencing what you had hoped when joining? Is participating on social media a net positive in your life? 

To hear the complete conversion with Dr. Steven Hassan, listen to the episode “How to Free Our Minds.” For an 11-minute snapshot of the conversation, watch a live recording of the podcast.

Read more at Humane Tech.

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