Jokes about Ebola are sickening

The hashtag #ebolajokes lay dormant from Aug. 5 2012, only to be revived almost exactly two years later when the World Health Organziation (WHO) declared Ebola an international health emergency as the death toll exceeded 1000.

A time when it’s not too soon to joke about Ebola will never come.

Hip-hop artist Chris Brown recently tweeted “I don’t know…But I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. Shit is getting crazy bruh.”

It’s easy to play down the worst Ebola outbreak since it was identified in 1976 when you’re almost 9400 km away from it, isn’t it, Bruh?

Brown’s quip was retweeted approximately 41,000 times in the first 48 hours. Whether he is a conspiracy theory believer at heart, or he meant it purely as a joke, his comment was met with both consent and outrage.

Sometimes laughter’s curing qualities are appropriate, but when it comes to death, well, that’s a line that should never be crossed.

The Internet can be an informative, limitless, and positive place but it also provides a faceless forum for people who show the darker sides of modern society.  Hashtag jokes and viral memes poking fun at mass devastation and misery are being launched almost as soon as the events begin. The “it’s too soon” consideration doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Even the Halloween costume industry is trying to make light of the Ebola crises to turn a profit.

A product image released by Brands On Sale, Inc. shows a hazmat suit Halloween costume, complete with a respirator, face shield, safety goggles, blue latex gloves and the word Ebola embroidered on the breast. The “Ebola Containment Suit Costume” costs $80 and promises that it will be the most “viral” costume of the year. Someone showing up at a party in that costume is definitely at risk of being punched in the face.

There is no room for light-heartedness when the virus at hand has killed almost 5000 people and has no hope of control in near sight.

The antics have left the Internet and entered the physical public realm (where people can see your face), with the most recent example being a passenger escorted off a US Airways flight by a hazmat team after proclaiming, “I have Ebola. You’re all screwed.” The 290 passengers on the commercial airline were grounded for two hours because one wise-guy thought it was a good idea to crack jokes about a highly fatal virus.

Aside from being widely distasteful and inappropriate, these examples of Ebola-induced humour are making the situation worse. Not medically, but psychologically.

The more people see Ebola jokes on the internet, whether they’re made by anonymous internet citizens or idolized famous people, the more desensitized our world becomes. It’s this endless cycle that makes it increasingly acceptable to not only create these jokes, but laugh along with them.

Our society is plagued with desensitization. We are numb to the truths, just as we are numb to the ignorance. This is harmful, especially when it comes to a crisis like Ebola, where awareness and education is crucial. In North America we see it as happening in a place far away, to people we cannot relate to, which makes it easier for our eyes to glaze over the sickening banter.

The current situation is going to require the assistance and resources from every nation available to help. The Internet will always be riddled with basement-dwelling ignorance, but speaking out against it is a step in the right direction – for the physical and psychological safety of everyone.