Overview:

Social media spreads (mis)information about the monkeypox virus at an alarming rate.

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Monkeypox cases increased notably over the past week, culminating in the White House declaring a public health emergency on Thursday. Panic and anger have mounted along with it, given limited vaccine availability and continued concerns of homophobic stigma.

There are stark differences between the rise of monkeypox and that of COVID-19. Monkeypox is far less contagious than COVID, and as of yet, no deaths have been reported in the U.S. Nonetheless, a similar sort of hysteria is rippling through the nation, especially among the young and left-leaning. 

Social media platforms such as TikTok play a major role in stoking this fear. Some videos are merely informative: those infected by monkeypox share symptoms, while scientists share the basics of the virus and explain how to prevent infection. However, other popular videos simply spread misinformation and raise panic, with assertions of governmental conspiracies and impending lockdowns.

Fear-mongering via social media platforms is not exactly new; after all, social media is designed to induce this kind of frenzied obsession.

To counter hysteria, many have called for a calm, efficient, and data-driven response, highlighting preventative measures.

Kai Kupferschmidt, a science reporter who specializes in infectious diseases and identifies as gay, wrote: “The solution is to choose words carefully, to engage the communities that are most at risk and to listen to those affected by the disease.”

While epidemiologists and journalists continue to clash over what this community engagement should look like, one theme resurfaces again and again. We must learn from the successes and failures of our national COVID-19 response, not simply replay them.

Given that we have far more resources and information about monkeypox than we did with respect to COVID, we should approach this next crisis accordingly. At the very least, maybe don’t spiral over every misleading viral TikTok. 

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Georgia Michelman is a reluctant recent Yale College graduate with backgrounds in physics, astronomy, and history. She is always searching for intersections between the worlds of science and the humanities....