Rumors of an Ebola outbreak at the Burning Man festival spread like wildfire over the weekend with social media users posting fake health advisories, flight data and conspiracy theories to TikTok and Twitter, Forbes reported. Though the rumors have been debunked, their rapid spread is another example of the dangers of online misinformation, particularly on Twitter.
The rumor mill got up and running on Saturday when two Twitter users – one with a “verified” account – posted a fake screenshot from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Twitter account that said that an outbreak had been confirmed at the festival and that Burning Man attendees should shelter in place. “Tweeted and Deleted; Apparently there’s a fucking Ebola outbreak at Burning Man right now,” the verified user captioned the screenshot.
Another Twitter post showed a video of people evacuating Los Angeles international airport and was captioned, “Private jet from Burning Man lands at LAX and get quarantined on runway and airport evacuated.”
While all of those posts on Twitter, recently rebranded as X, remain on the site they have a note that debunks them and adds context.
In a more conspiratorial post, in a now-deleted TikTok, a user declared that the alleged Ebola outbreak and heavy rains that pummelled the festival grounds in Black Rock city in north-west Nevada, were an attempt by evil forces to get rid of “spiritual people”.
The weeklong festival, which attracts tens of thousands of attendees, began on 27 August and by Saturday afternoon, Nevada’s bureau of land management declared the entrance to Burning Man closed for good due to wet, muddy road conditions. Event organizers were asking “burners” to stay at their camps and conserve their food and water because roads were not safe enough to allow people to leave. The weather also postponed the marquee event of the festival: the burning of a large wooden effigy shaped like a man.
Despite the chaotic images shown on the news and shared on social media, festival attendees emphasized that the muck and mire brought out the best of some of their temporary community members. “The spirit in there was really like: ‘We’re going to take care of each other and make the best of it,” said Cindy Bishop, who traveled to the festival from Boston.
“Burning Man is a community of people who are prepared to support one another,” organizers with Burning Man said on the webpage dedicated to helping people navigate the “wet playa”. “We have come here knowing this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive. It is because of this that we are all well-prepared for a weather event like this.”
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, the CEO of Burning Man Project, Marian Goodell, said that while thousands were stuck in the isolated venue there was “no cause for panic”. She was also optimistic that the extreme conditions this year would not mean that festival would not take place again.
“This is not ending the Burning Man event by any stretch,” she said. “It just makes us stronger.”
As of Tuesday, people were still trickling out of the desert and 36,000 festivalgoers remained.