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tiktok monkeypox
Courtesy Tiktok

Stop filming people who you assume have monkeypox

People with skin conditions are being wrongly slammed on social media for ‘spreading monkeypox’

When Lilly Simon boarded the New York subway last week, she didn’t think she’d go viral. All she did was sit down and speak to someone on the phone. She didn’t notice the person to her left, filming her and zooming in on spots on her leg, already mentally leaping to the conclusion that Simon had monkeypox and was selfishly threatening public health by daring to step foot on the subway.

Simon does not have monkeypox. She has neurofibromatosis 1, a genetic condition which causes tumours to grow on nerves. It’s not contagious.

This video of Simon has since been taken down, but she’s posted her own response, explaining what it’s like to have neurofibromatosis 1. “The tumours are benign, but they’re still all over my skin and give me a lot of health complications: both physical and mental,” she says in the video. “I’ve always had to deal with people like the people in the comments section of this video and the person who posted this.”

“I will not let any of y’all reverse years of therapy and healing that I’ve had to endure to deal with the condition and exist around people like you,” she says.

Sadly, Simon is not the first person to be accused of spreading monkeypox on social media. Last week, a photo of a man’s leg went viral on Twitter: he was supposedly on the metro in Spain and had visible spots on his leg. According to the ‘doctor’ who posted the image, the man had monkeypox, and was putting everyone in the carriage in danger. As monkeypox cases rise, it seems as though more and more people with skin conditions are set to be surveilled and lambasted by trigger-happy social media users who can’t resist jumping to conclusions and publicly shaming innocent people for their perceived ‘crimes’.

@lillysmallsz #stitch with @fuckinfrass i have taken screen shots of the comments will be posting them…everyywhereee. For those of you who were kind thank u. Youre fine. When someone does a background search/google search on yall… theyll see who you really you talk to your colleagues like this? Your patrons?#nf1warrior💚💙 #nf1awareness #nf1fighter #bodyshaming #bodypositivity #streetharrassment ♬ Oh No - Kreepa

There’s this pervasive urge to present yourself as A Good Person on social media, and so often this manifests as throwing someone else under the bus in order to position yourself as more morally astute. It’s why Twitter regularly has a ‘main character’ – someone who, usually unsuspectingly, does something Bad and briefly becomes a target for jokes and scorn and shaming online.

It’s unsettling to see this moral puritanism and the panic surrounding monkeypox intersect in this way. And not only is this trend damaging to the unsuspecting victims ‘exposed’ on social media, but it’s also facilitating the spread of misinformation. Take Simon – the bumps on her skin look nothing like darker monkeypox lesions. Or in the case of the man on the metro – the (so-called) doctor seemed concerned that other passengers were in danger of becoming infected, but monkeypox usually spreads through close skin-to-skin contact and is not airborne like COVID-19.

With rising numbers of young people getting their news off TikTok, it’s never been more important to be mindful of what you’re consuming and question whether it’s coming from a reliable source. So if you’re scrolling through social media and you see someone post a video of a stranger who *supposedly* has monkeypox, it’s worth thinking twice before mindlessly hitting the retweet button.