Amid news of the heavy rains turning the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert into a flooded fiasco, social media has seen a deluge of misinformation claiming that an Ebola outbreak has hit the event, causing a lockdown and mass panic. Rest assured, there’s no evidence of Ebola at Burning Man, so where did the story come from and what is Ebola?
One widely shared post showed a fake screenshot of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) account on X (formerly Twitter) stating that an Ebola outbreak had been confirmed in Black Rock City, Nevada, where the festival is taking place.
Most people sharing the misinformation appear to be trolling or joking around, but plenty of users seem to have taken the false claims seriously.
The account behind an anti-vaxxer COVID conspiracy documentary commented: “If the Ebola outbreak at The Burning Man Festival is confirmed to be true, you can be sure that it was a pre-planned and calculated operation by our own Government.”
These claims are totally fabricated and health authorities have not issued any such warnings.
Fortunately, X has since added Community Notes to some of the erroneous posts in a push to clear up the confusion, which read: “Whether it was deliberate misinformation or just a Twitter/X joke that got out of hand, there are apparently people who believe this. It’s not true.”
However, if you search "Ebola" or "Burning Man" on X, you'll be swamped with jokes and false claims about the supposed outbreak with no indication of what's satire and what's misinformation. It doesn't help that Elon Musk's premiership at X changed Twitter's old verification system, meaning anyone can get their hands on an official-looking blue tick for just a few dollars a month.
What is Ebola and how is it transmitted?
The chances of something like Ebola spreading at Burning Man are very slim. Ebola is a virus that can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, including blood, vomit, diarrhea, urine, breast milk, sweat, and semen.
The disease is endemic in East-Central and West Africa. In the past, it has been known to appear in countries outside of equatorial Africa, but this is always the result of infected people – usually healthcare and aid workers – traveling from the affected area. It rarely, if ever, gets a foothold outside of its endemic area where there are strong protocols and sturdy healthcare systems.
While deadly tropical diseases aren’t an issue, the situation at Burning Man over the weekend was pretty dire.
An unseasonable rainstorm arrived towards the end of the nine-day festival, transforming the arid desert into a mud bath. The adverse conditions stopped an estimated 72,000 festival-goers from leaving the event, prompting the organizers to advise people to take shelter and conserve their food. One man has reportedly died, although Burning Man Communications have said the death is "unrelated to the weather".
Among the devastation, however, new life has emerged. The freakishly wet weather replenished the black rock desert with freshwater, sparking the emergence of “dinosaur shrimp” and other crustaceans that had been laying dormant in the bone-dry ground.