It’s not just homosexuals at risk. And attributing responsibility to a category of people not only reminds us of the attitude already seen with AIDS, but does not help to fight the contagion

Rhiannon Williams

Homophobic misinformation circulating on social media is hampering efforts to curb the spread of the disease, according to research conducted for MIT Technology Review. 2,093 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported worldwide as of June 17 and most involved men who have had sex with same-sex people, according to the World Health Organization. His director in Europe, which is the epicenter of the current epidemic, sounded the alarm this week, warning that authorities must do more to contain the disease.

According to research conducted for “MIT Technology Review” by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the job is made more difficult by false theories, often homophobic, which are spreading across all major social media platforms. Misinformation is making it harder to convince the public that monkeypox can affect anyone and could dissuade people from reporting potential infections..

There are also pandemic-type conspiracy theories in which Bill Gates and the “global elites” are attacked or the virus is suggested to have been developed in a laboratory. But undoubtedly the main trend is that of homophobia and the attempt is to attribute the blame for the epidemic to the LGBTQ + communities. Some Twitter posts claim that the countries most open to LGBTQ + communities are the areas where monkeypox cases are highest. It is no coincidence that they call the virus “God’s vengeance”.

In a video shared on Twitter last month, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene falsely claimed that “monkeypox is mainly transmitted only through homosexual intercourse.” Homophobic comments on monkeypox articles that have been shared thousands of times on Facebook have been allowed to stay online, with one post collecting hundreds of disgusted reactions shared more than 40,000 times via Telegram.

A YouTube video on a channel with 1.12 million subscribers spreads misinformation that monkeypox can be avoided simply by avoiding going to gay “orgies”, getting bitten by a rodent or getting a prairie dog as a pet. The movie had over 178,000 views. Another video, from a channel with 294,000 subscribers, claims that women contract monkeypox by coming into “contact with a man who has probably had some other contact with another man.” This footage also reached nearly 30,000 views. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did not respond to requests for comment.

This stigma has real consequences: infected people who may not want to discuss their sex life are less likely to report their symptomsmaking it more difficult to track new cases and effectively control the disease. In fact, the virus can affect anyone and does not take into account people’s identity or sexual preferences.

Misinformation framing monkeypox as an infection that exclusively affects homosexuals could convince heterosexual people that they run a lower risk of contracting and spreading it than in reality, says Julii Brainard, a researcher at the University of the East. Anglia working on public health threats. “Many people will think, ‘This disease can’t hit me,’” she says.

The situation is made more difficult by the fact that there is still no clarity on the different ways in which monkeypox is transmitted or how it is currently spreading. Surely the transition is linked to close contact with an infected person or animal, but WHO said it is also investigating the hypothesis that the virus is present in human spermalthough sequencing data so far has provided no evidence that monkeypox behaves like a sexually transmitted disease.

Furthermore, it is not known which animal acts as a natural reservoir for monkeypox (the host that keeps the virus in nature), although WHO suspects that these are rodents. While it is not yet clear how or where the outbreak began, WHO believes that outside some West and Central African countries where it is regularly detected, the virus has started to spread from person to person, mainly among the men having sex with other men after two raves in Spain and Belgium.

While typical symptoms of monkeypox include swollen lymph nodes followed by a rash of lesions on the face, hands, and feet, many people affected by the most recent outbreak show fewer lesions., which are developing on the hands, anus, mouth and genitals. This difference is likely to be related to the nature of the contact.

Misinformation about monkeypox often takes advantage of homophobia already circulating in society, says Keletso Makofane, a health and human rights researcher at Harvard University. People who spread misinformation often get fixated on the ways men have sex with each other, he says.

Community care organizations have done a good job of communicating accurate information, Makofane explains, encouraging people to be aware of changes in their bodies or those of their partners and to seek help if needed. Ads on the Grindr gay dating app directing users to health care providers and information about monkeypox have also reached a large audience..

While the threat of monkeypox appears serious, we have no reason to panic right now, says Derek Walsh, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “The way in which monkeypox spreads”, he concludes, “makes it very unlikely that the story of the covid pandemic will repeat itself and in any case we already have effective vaccines.”

Image: Pixabay, Alexandra_Koch

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The post Monkeypox, homophobic disinformation is worse than disease first appeared on Technology Review Italia.

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