Ebola, the deadly virus that has killed thousands of Africans, hit Harlem in October. A doctor who was treating patients in West Africa, returned to his home not far from campus, and was diagnosed with Ebola. He is being cared for, but many remain terrified by the disease. Here is the third of three follow-up reports about the fear and stigma Ebola has caused. Previously, we covered marginalization against African immigrants and the social media reaction to the disease. Here, Keevin Brown looks at the conspiracy theories that are spreading faster than the actual virus.
All over the world, media outlets are currently reporting on the spread of Ebola. To date the disease has killed thousands people, mainly in Africa and has terrified many others since it hit the United States.
But some alternate news sources are reporting a different story. Conspiracy theories have become rampant with articles insisting that the spread of Ebola is deliberate and specific to certain countries and communities. According to the website theeventchronicle.com a man named Nana Kwame has posted the “real” reason for the Ebola outbreak.
“Most people jump to “depopulation” which is no doubt always on the mind of the West when it comes to Africa,” says Kwame, who describes himself as the CEO of DreamCrafters Architecture and Engineering Services located in Ghana.
“But I assure you Africa can NEVER be depopulated by killing 160 people a day when thousands are born per day. So the real reasons are much more tangible.”
In West Africa, which has suffered the brunt of the disease, conspiracy theories are widespread and widely read. Articles in Liberia’s largest publication, the Liberian Daily Observer, call into question the circumstances surrounding the newest Ebola outbreak. Liberia has been the area of Africa hardest hit by the disease.“Reports narrate stories of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) funding Ebola trials on humans, trials which started just weeks before the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone” insists Dr. Cyril Broderick. The former professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture and Forestry has been quoted in a number of conspiracy-style articles. “This research work involved injecting and infusing healthy humans with the deadly Ebola virus.”
Conspiracy theories are all over Facebook and Twitter. One Facebook poster commented: “I’m American and I completely agree with you. In the 1950’s there was an Ebola out break and all of a sudden it was in recession. In the 1980’s there was another outbreak of Ebola and now all of a sudden there’s another. Like AIDS.” Another said: “Only four countries…that alone is enough to question the validity of this virus.” The R&B performer Chris Brown added his opinion on Twitter in October, calling Ebola a form of population control.
Myra Thompson of New York City has seen these kinds of Ebola denials. “I read online that the Ebola virus is not real,” says Thompson, a stay at home mother of two. “With all these different rumors I’m starting to believe this Ebola is one elaborate government hoax.”
Conspiracy theories are far from new. Since the 80s, rumors have circulated that another deadly disease, the HIV/AIDS virus, was manufactured to kill black people. “The Ebola virus is so reminiscent of the HIV/AIDS situation in terms of the hysteria,” says Herb Boyd, a well-known black journalist and City College adjunct professor.
“Rumors are the first causalities of war and hysteria is like the first casualty of an epidemic,” he adds. “That means that a lot of misinformation gets out. And I that think that can be in a society like the one we live in which can poison the whole environment that people begin to react and act on misinformation and there in the finger pointing occurs.”
Indeed, the rumor mill has churned out theory after theory, especially concerning Africa. “There are still so many stereotypes and myths about Africa as the Dark Continent,” says Cheryl Sterling, director of CCNY’s Black Studies Program. “Myths and mis-education have led to stereotypes that most Westerners have, but don’t realize that they do because they appear to be true. It becomes an easy association to make between the “darkness” of Africa and epidemic conditions.”
Even those who don’t think Ebola has been concocted in a lab, still feel skeptical about the disease and its spread. “It’s clear that Ebola is a horrible disease,” says Thompson, “but the circumstances surrounding this outbreak just don’t sit well with me.”