It may well be called Burning Man Festival, but the Nevada-based event all about “community, art, self-expression, and self-resilience” at a temporary city in Black Rock Desert has set social media ablaze with baseless, unsubstantiated and debunked conspiracies that the site is home to an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
In fact, what had actually happened at the festival was that it had been hit by severe weather, turning the desert into a mud pit and leaving more than 72,000 people stranded as the only road leading in and out of the site was shut.
“If you are in [Black Rock City], conserve food and water, and shelter in a warm space,” organisers tweeted on Sunday.
Nevertheless, rumours soon circulated online that something more nefarious was at play. Falsified tweets were made purporting to be from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Burning Man, and one text message claiming to be from someone at the festival alleged organisers are “saying it’s Ebola”:
Fears were only amplified when it was reported on Saturday that an individual had died onsite, although Burning Man confirmed a day later that a male – “approximately 40 years old” – could not be resuscitated following a medical incident “unrelated to the weather”.
According to Axios, the man has since been identified as being 32-year-old Leon Reece, who was pronounced dead before the arrival of county officials.
In a statement shared with the outlet, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said: “Office deputies performed a preliminary investigation of the immediate area.
“After interviewing witnesses at the scene as well as medical responders, no immediate cause of death could be determined.”
Addressing online claims of an Ebola outbreak, organisers said in a Sunday press release: “The online rumours of transmissible illnesses in Black Rock City are unfounded and untrue.
“People are sharing resources and looking after one another … There is music playing, camp meals being shared, socialising, and walking around the playa to look at art and interact as a community.”
If that’s not enough to dispel the social media nonsense, the public information officer for Burning Man at the Bureau of Land Management (which oversees the Black Rock Desert site) told indy100 in a statement: “I can confirm the event entrance was closed for the year because unusual rainfall caused muddy conditions where there was a full stop on vehicles, and not for an Ebola outbreak.
“We have heard no information of any participants with Ebola.”
Still not convinced, somehow? Well now even the CDC has rubbished the online conspiracy.
A spokesperson told indy100 on Tuesday: “CDC has not received any reports of Ebola at the Burning Man Festival and has not issued any warnings or had any requests for assistance from the state and local health departments either.
“Additionally, we have not received reports of Mpox or Marburg, and to our knowledge a national emergency for the flooding has not been declared.”
So to summarise: three different organisations have dismissed the misinformation, so you can stop worrying/spreading it around now.
Burning Man have also since lifted the driving ban onsite, commencing “exodus” operations on Monday at 2pm local time but adding in a statement that the playa is “still muddy” and that attendees should “consider delaying [their] departure from Black Rock City until Tuesday”.
At midday on Monday, approximately 64,000 people were still onsite.
And after all that, the effigy for which the festival gets its name was successfully – and finally - burned on Monday evening.