Monkeypox: disinformation covers contagion risk | hot online

Monkeypox has appeared in more and more countries in recent months. The virus has been accompanied by a wave of disinformation circulating on social media, which is making containment more difficult, shows research commissioned by the US edition of MIT Technology Review.

As of June 17, 2,093 confirmed cases of the virus had been reported worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they have been found mainly in men who have sex with men. The WHO Director for Europe, the epicenter of the current epidemic, recently sounded the alarm and warned that authorities need to do more to slow the spread.

The often homophobic conspiracy theories spreading around the net don’t help here at all. They are spreading across all major social media platforms, according to research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Misinformation makes it harder to convince the public that monkeypox can affect anyone and could discourage people from reporting risks of infection.

Some of these fake news overlap well-known pandemic conspiracy theories, attacking Bill Gates and the “global elites” or claiming that the virus was specially engineered in the laboratory. Much of this is directly homophobic, seeking to blame the LGBTQ + community for the outbreak. Some Twitter posts claim that countries where anti-LGBTQ + hate speech is banned are the areas where the highest incidence of monkeypox occurs. The virus is nicknamed “God’s vengeance”. In a video shared on Twitter last month, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a US congressman from Georgia, falsely claimed that “monkeypox is only transmitted through gay sex.”

So far, homophobic comments on monkeypox articles, which have garnered thousands of Facebook likes, have been allowed to stay online, although one article in particular, which has sparked hundreds of outraged reactions, has been shared over 40,000. times via Telegram.

A YouTube video on a channel with 1.12 million subscribers contained numerous false claims, such as avoiding monkeypox by not going to gay parties (“orgies”), not getting bitten by a rodent, or not having a raised prairie dog. as a pet. (Rodents and prairie dogs have been considered carriers in previous outbreaks.) The aforementioned video has been viewed more than 178,000 times. Another video from a channel with 294,000 subscribers claims that women contract monkeypox when “they come into contact with a man who has probably also been in contact with another man”; has been viewed nearly 30,000 times. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

This stigma has real consequences. Infected people who don’t want to talk about their sex life are less likely to report their symptoms. This makes it more difficult to detect new cases and effectively fight the disease. In fact, the virus can affect anyone and is independent of people’s sexual activities. Misinformation suggesting that monkeypox only affects men who have sex with men may convince people that they are less at risk of contracting and spreading the disease than they actually are, says Julii Brainard, Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia working on modeling public health threats. “Many people will think: This doesn’t apply to me,” she warns.

The fact that we still don’t know all the ways in which monkeypox is transmitted and why it is currently spreading increases uncertainty. While we know that the virus is transmitted through close contact with an infected person or animal. But WHO also said it is investigating reports that it was found in human semen, suggesting it could also be sexually transmitted. However, sequencing data to date have provided no evidence that monkeypox is transmitted as a venereal disease. Nor is it known which animal acts as a natural reservoir for monkeypox, although WHO suspects they are rodents.

While it’s still unclear how or where the current outbreak began, experts believe the virus likely spread to humans after two raves in Spain and Belgium outside some West and Central African countries, where it is been seen regularly. Human spread, mainly among men who have sexual relations with men. While typical symptoms of monkeypox include swollen lymph nodes followed by outbreaks of lesions on the face, hands and feet, many people affected by the recent outbreak this time have fewer lesions, which are on the hands, develop anus, mouth, and genitals. This difference is probably related to the type of contact.

Misinformation related to monkeypox often exploits homophobia that exists in society, says Keletso Makofane, a professor of health and human rights at Harvard University. People who spread fake news often focus on how men have sex with each other, he says. Community organizations that care about men having sex with men do a good job of providing accurate and non-stigmatizing information. They encouraged people to be aware of changes in their bodies or those of their partners and to seek help if needed.

More from MIT Technology Review

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Ads within the Grindr gay dating app, which direct users to health care providers and extensive information about monkeypox, are also successful and have reached a large audience. “Now I believe awareness among homosexuals [für das Thema Affenpocken] bigger than outside their community, ”Makofane says.

While we should take the threat of monkeypox seriously, there’s no need to panic right now, says Derek Walsh, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The way monkeypox spreads means it’s unlikely to spread like the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, we already have effective vaccines,” he says. Those against actually eradicated “normal” smallpox mostly attack. “We just need to be vigilant now and avoid stigmatizing anyone who gets infected.”


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