Online Cults & Online Drift
Online cults can be just as harmful as traditional in-person cults and can lead to severe emotional, financial, and psychological abuse of its members.
They can also be difficult to recognize and escape from because they use the anonymity and reach of the internet to manipulate and control members.
Online cults are a bit nebulous and increasingly difficult to identify.
Typically, this term refers to groups that use the internet and social media to recruit, influence, and interact with members. While these groups can be religious in nature, spirituality is not always present in groups that exert coercive control.
Some common characteristics of such groups include:
Use of social media, chat rooms, and online platforms to recruit and communicate
A strong emphasis on secrecy and isolation (in-group/out-group thinking)
A charismatic individual who is often seen as infallible and above criticism
Unethical use of manipulation and persuasion techniques to control
A demand for complete devotion and loyalty
A focus on collecting money and personal information from members.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are online conspiracy theory groups cults?
Online conspiracy theory groups have received a significant amount of press and critique in recent years, and for good reason.
That said, it is difficult to describe them as a "cult" in blanket terms.
There are likely online conspiracy theory groups that operate and act as cults, but labelling all of these communities as cults only further isolates those who choose to engage with them.
This is not an endorsement or an attempt to validate these groups. It is difficult to define cult, and you can learn more about how we approach the subject in our What Is A Cult? guide.
Do all online cults have cult leaders?
Similar to more "traditional" cults, online groups often have a charismatic leader.
This person often uses their platform and influence to persuade newcomers, manipulate other members, and control the narrative of their group.
That said, a cult leader is not required for online groups to engage in cult-like behavior or for coercion to take place.
Do online cults need to be focused on religion?
While online groups may have a religious group attached to them, it is not always present or necessary for leaders to exert control.
Coercive online groups could also qualify as political cults, online conspiracy groups, echo chambers, and much more.
What is online drift (or digital drift)?
Online drift is the term used to describe a phenomenon wherein individuals with similar beliefs, life experiences, and affinities tend to develop community via the internet.
The term itself does not indicate a positive or negative outlook on the group as a whole.
For instance, online drift can be used to describe a person's experience finding a niche hobby group - a relatively harmless outcome.
On the other end of the spectrum, the same term can be used to describe a person's discovery and engagement in an insidious terrorist/hate group.
It is a description of process, not a judgement of the outcome.
Seeking Help for Current and Former Cult Members of Online Groups?
It's important to be aware of the signs of coercion via the internet - and to be cautious when interacting with anyone you don't know personally online.
Active critical thinking skills and vigilance are always encouraged.
People who suspect they may be involved with an online cult should seek help from a professional to help them understand their situation.
For former members seeking recovery, or worried loved ones seeking resources, People Leave Cults can help.
Talk to us!
Everyone's situation is unique.
If you are interested in resources, curious about intervention, or want to help spread cult awareness, get in touch!