Festival goers at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert suffered severe mud challenges due to storms that inundated the event grounds, leading organizers to shut down the sole access road. Therefore, these challenging conditions have led to the spread of misinformation on social media. In particular, there are baseless claims of an Ebola outbreak at Burning Man.
What Is the Burning Man Festival?
In the summer of 1986, Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James crafted an improvised eight-foot-tall wooden figure. They transported it to Baker Beach in San Francisco, where they set it ablaze, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers who formed a semi-circle to witness the spectacle. Among the spectators was a member of the hippie movement who played the guitar and sang a song about fire. This event marked the inception of the annual Burning Man tradition.
Burning Man is often characterized as "a global ecosystem of artists, makers, and community organizers who co-create art, events, and local initiatives around the world." The festival aspires to create an experience blending elements of counterculture celebration and spiritual retreat.
What Happened at the 2023 Burning Man Festival?
The 2023 Burning Man Festival, originally scheduled from August 27 to September 4 in Black Rock City, located within Nevada's Black Rock Desert, faced unexpected disruptions due to heavy rainfall. The festival site received over 13mm (0.5 inches) of rain on Friday, a significant deviation from the typical September average of 5.4mm (0.21 inches) for the Reno area, as noted by meteorologist Mark Deutschendorf from the National Weather Service.
As a result of the rain, road closures were put in place just prior to the planned burning of the festival's large wooden effigy on Saturday night. Organizers announced the postponement of all burning activities and worked with authorities to reopen exit routes by the end of the Labor Day weekend.
In addition to the weather-related challenges, there was a reported death at the festival. The cause of death remained undisclosed, prompting an ongoing investigation.
With motorized traffic prohibited at the festival, attendees had to navigate through muddy conditions, many opting to go barefoot or use plastic bags to protect their feet. Festival goers were also urged to conserve their food and water supplies, and the majority chose to remain at the site. Nevertheless, some managed to trek to the nearest town or secure a ride there.
According to CNN, over 70,000 people were stranded in the Nevada desert throughout the entire weekend due to the heavy rainfall.
The 2023 Burning Man Misinformation-Related News
Rumors of an Ebola outbreak at the Burning Man festival rapidly circulated, with social media users sharing fabricated health advisories and conspiracy theories on various platforms, particularly on X.
The rumors regarding an Ebola outbreak began on Saturday on the X platform. At least two accounts have circulated a fabricated screenshot from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), falsely claiming an Ebola outbreak at Burning Man. One verified user asserted that the CDC had posted and subsequently deleted the post.
Misbar's team conducted a search on the official X account of the CDC and confirmed that the CDC never tweeted anything about Ebola at Black Rock City.
Other accounts have been spreading misinformation about the establishment of a quarantine zone at Burning Man, along with false claims of aircraft heading to the area for a blockade.
Yet, there is no substantiated evidence of anyone at Burning Man contracting Ebola as revealed by reliable media outlets citing health officials.
Moreover, the claim of an Ebola outbreak at Burning Man has gained such traction on X that individuals are now modifying the headline of a Forbes article to falsely read, "Yes, There’s An Ebola Outbreak At Burning Man," when the original headline is, "No, There’s Not An Ebola Outbreak At Burning Man." This underscores the spread of misinformation surrounding the event.
No Ebola Outbreak, but Risk of Other Infectious Diseases
Federal health officials, as reported by The Associated Press, have confirmed that there have been no reports of Ebola cases at the event. One general practice physician revealed to Insider that although an Ebola outbreak is considered unlikely, there are still genuine concerns about the potential for other infectious diseases and health issues due to the current conditions in Black Rock City.
The physician emphasized that recent weather conditions are exposing trapped attendees to the risk of hypothermia if they are unable to find warmth and dryness. Furthermore, the longer festivalgoers remain stranded, the higher the likelihood of them falling ill with COVID-19, food poisoning, and hygiene-related stomach problems, particularly as essential cleaning supplies become scarce.
CEO of the Burning Man Project’s Clarification
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Marian Goodell, the CEO of the Burning Man Project, reassured that despite thousands being stranded in the isolated venue, there was "no cause for panic." She expressed optimism that the challenging conditions this year would not lead to the cancellation of the festival in the future, stating, "This is not ending the Burning Man event by any stretch... it just makes us stronger."