Homophobic misinformation is making it harder to contain the spread of monkeypox
Homophobic misinformation about monkeypox is circulating on social media and is hindering efforts to stop its spread.
There have been 2,093 confirmed cases of the virus reported worldwide as of June 17. So far cases have mainly been identified among men who have sex with men, according to the World Health Organization. Its director in Europe, which is the epicenter of the current outbreak, sounded the alarm this week, warning that the authorities need to do more to contain the disease.
That job is being made harder by false, often homophobic theories that are spreading on all major social media platforms, according to research carried out for MIT Technology Review by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. These false claims make it difficult to convince the public monkeypox is possible for everyone. They could also discourage people from reporting potential infections.
Some of this misinformation overlaps with familiar pandemic conspiracy theories, attacking Bill Gates and “global elites” or suggesting that the virus was developed in a lab. Much of the information is homophobic and attempts at blaming the outbreak on LGBTQ communities.
Homophobic comments on articles about monkeypox that have been liked thousands of times on Facebook have been allowed to remain online, with one specific piece that garnered hundreds of disgusted reactions shared more than 40,000 times via Telegram.
A YouTube video that is 1. 12 million subscribers includes false claims that monkeypox can be avoided simply by not going to gay orgies, getting bitten by a rodent, or getting a prairie dog as a pet. It has been viewed more than 178,000 times. Another video, from a channel with 294,000 subscribers, claims that women contract monkeypox by coming into “contact with a man who probably has some other contact with another man”; it has been viewed close to 30,000 times. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook did not respond to requests to comment at the time of publication.
Such stigma has real consequences–infected people who may not want to discuss their sex lives are less likely to report their symptoms, making it harder to trace new cases and effectively control the disease.
In reality, the virus can infect anyone and is not aware of people’s sexual identities. According to Julii Brainard, a Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, who studies public health threats, misinformation could make people believe that monkeypox only affects men who have had sex with them. She says that many people will think, “That doesn’t apply for me.” None of this is helped because we don’t know all the ways monkeypox can be transmitted or how it’s spreading. Although we know that it spreads through close contact with infected animals or people, the WHO said it is investigating reports that the virus may be present in human semen. However, sequencing data has not provided any evidence that monkeypox behaves like an STD. It’s also not known which animal acts as monkeypox’s natural reservoir (the host that maintains the virus in nature), although the WHO suspects it is rodents. The WHO believes that the virus spread from person to person after it was discovered in Central Africa. Monkeypox symptoms include swelling in the lymph nodes, followed by the appearance of lesions on the face, hands and feet. However, many people who have been affected by the latest outbreak have less lesions. These lesions are developing on the hands and anus as well as the genitals. This is likely to be due to the nature of the contact.
Misinformation around monkeypox often capitalizes on the homophobia that’s already present in society, says Keletso Makofane, a health and human rights fellow at Harvard University. He says that misinformation is often focused on the way men have sex.
Community-based organizations that help men who have sex together have done a great job of communicating accurate information that doesn’t stigmatize them.
Ads for Grindr that direct users to health professionals and information about monkeypox have also been shared widely. Makofane states that he believes there is more awareness among gay people than outsiders.
While we should take the monkeypox threat seriously we don’t have to panic, says Derek Walsh, a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg school of Medicine.
” The way monkeypox spreads suggests that it is unlikely to spread as widely as the covid pandemic. We also have effective vaccines for it. “We really just need to be vigilant and avoid stigmatizing anyone that catches it.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.