Originally published on The Daily Orange:
When coverage of the Ebola virus first appeared in the media, it seemed far away — 6,000 miles away, to be precise.
But when the virus showed up in Dallas and received more mainstream media coverage, our generation responded to it how we would to any widely covered news story: on social media.
Some of the posts on social media have expressed fear and concern. But some have expressed more disturbing opinions. Some have taken to joking about the disease and treating it as if it is just another Internet meme. Our generation is sometimes seen as self-centered and clueless about world events. When we joke about something that has already killed more than 4,000 people, we are only perpetuating that stereotype.
So far, there have been a little over 8,000 people affected by the virus, with more than 4,000 of them resulting in death, according to a Friday Al Jazeera article. That’s a 50 percent fatality rate. That’s not funny.
And as the number of victims increases, so do the insensitive jokes, which have appeared on Twitter, Facebook and on Yik Yak. I’ve seen jokes ranging from racist comments to plain unintelligent ones.
For example, on Twitter, @GisellePhelps said “Cowboys: 5. Ebola: 2. Dallas needed the pick me up! ;)”
One anonymous user on Yik Yak said: “Everytime ‘Sierra Leone’ by Frank Ocean comes on shuffle I skip it in fear of getting Ebola. Is that wrong.”
A Facebook group called “Ebola Jokes” said, “Remember kids, if you set eyes on the new kid on the block from Africa, you’ll get Ebola.”
It’s completely inaccurate to generalize what has happened to 8,000 people from four African countries to represent an entire African continent, where there are 1.1 billion people from 54 different countries.
These jokes aren’t funny, and the attempt to make light of a serious situation is extremely misguided. The jokes are not only disrespectful and insensitive, but also exhibit an inability to comprehend serious issues on a global scale.
Additionally, it seems like one of the main reasons millennials in the U.S. are joking about Ebola in the first place is because the disease isn’t a direct threat to their lives –– yet. Just because this disease has not been prominent in the U.S., and is most commonly seen on the news, does not give people an excuse to make fun of the situation.
There are some people who are an example of how our generation should be reacting to this international health crisis. Instead of laughing at the situation, they are speaking out. Michael Essien, who is part of the Ghana national soccer team, took to Twitter and said, “the true victims of Ebola deserve better and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. #sue.”
Some may argue that it’s better to joke about the issue than not talk about it at all. People need to be storming their social media accounts expressing their concerns and thoughts for those affected by Ebola. But joking about it is not the way to do that.
Our generation has a lot of power on social media, and it’s extremely shameful we are using this power to joke about other people’s suffering.
Tamara Rasamny is a junior international relations and newspaper and online journalism dual major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.