Once an epidemic gets out of control, YouTube initially tries to contain it by removing part of its scope. (Evidence that this is happening for sufferers of foot-and-mouth disease is rampant on the video-sharing site these days). When it does manage to control a story, though, it drops all the edgy visuals, inciting international panic, and just lets the cover sheet write the messages.
Certain types of hoaxes tend to attract strange audiences, specifically those who have little practical knowledge about HIV, TB, Zika, and other viruses. One group that could best be described as irrational attention-seekers, however, are those who watch YouTube videos that claim, for instance, that an Ebola outbreak has been brought to a remote market near me. Here are some examples.
In 2014, footage appeared on YouTube of a trader in central Mali boasting of the presence of 100 Ebola victims in his market. The video has been watched more than 17 million times, and this viral video has convinced enough in-the-know web-cultivated individuals that Ebola is present in central Mali to create a panic among the surrounding population.
One of the scariest Ebola hoaxes of all (or at least all this time), is a 7 minute video entitled “‘Heart-Syncing’ Ebola Virus Kills 100 in Mali” by chronicler of all things Ebola and alternative medicine life-coach Dennis Carroll, that has gone viral on YouTube.
The original video came out in July 2012, but the clip went viral again in November 2015, after Carroll released a 14 minute version of the same story. This new viral version, titled “Ebola Virus Kills 100 in Mali,” has been viewed more than 30 million times and has inspired countries (like Sudan) to scrap all medical care.
In this video, Carroll presents a series of five graphic he calls “bravehearts” interviews, describing how a few of the people interviewed were ill before the Ebola virus outbreak, but then their health improved immediately after they came into contact with the virus, before moving onto a story of how three of the “cure” folkmen who apparently kept the virus in check are now dead. Carroll describes the true story of how the two big successful deaths are to be credited with the rising viral death toll.
The rehashed viral content often portrays Ebola as something that’s white-washed and controlled. And, yes, there are no Ebola billboards in Mali, but this is just one of many examples on YouTube of how the virus has been managed by YouTube’s public relations department. But the epidemic has played out and YouTube has been forced to ease back on the coverage, too.