When Rudy Eugene attacked the sleeping Ronald Poppo in Miami by reportedly chewing off his face, many people responded to the shocking nature of the event with humor, suggesting that maybe Eugene was actually a zombie. The reaction makes sense – it’s difficult to process such a horrific event, and easier to respond to such an incomprehensible act by suggesting that the perpetrator wasn’t really human.
Unfortunately, there’s corner of the internet that wasn’t in on the joke and is taking the attack, along with a few other similar high-profile crimes, as evidence of a “zombie apocalypse.” Even Gawker, a high-profile news and entertainment blog, ran a piece suggesting that the end was nigh, pointing to a series of “ominous” events and suggesting they might indicate the spread of a zombie virus. The timeline presented is obviously forced – for instance, a group of students breaking out with a rash at a Florida high school is suggested as the start of the virus – even though none of those students has, to anyone’s knowledge, gone on to gnaw off anyone’s face. Many of the events are scattered across the country and appear to have no connection to one another.
The Gawker article was clearly supposed to be tongue-in-cheek – but people seem to be taking it seriously. Add a few other high-profile cases of cannibalism across the world in the past few weeks, and many people are beginning to believe there’s an actual epidemic – and a conspiracy to keep the truth from becoming known. Even Time Magazine decided to get in on the action by issuing a “Zombie Alert.”
Believers are calling the zombie disease LQP-79, and concern about this mystery virus gained enough momentum that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually had to issue a press release stating, “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).” The CDC has also had to clarify that their Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Guide issued last year was, in fact, a joke meant to highlight the importance of disaster preparedness.
The origin of the LQP-79 myth appears to be a single image which altered a Huffington Post article to give the appearance of an official news report stating that Rudy Eugene was the host to a virus which “makes you hungry for human flesh.” The spoof article is poorly-written and only exists in image form, which should have been a couple of tip-offs that it wasn’t an actual news story – but some people bought into the hoax.
From there, the disinformation spread. Professional web programmer Alfred Moya saw a website dedicated to uncovering the “truth” about the virus, and decided he could do better. So he created a hoax website and YouTube account to demonstrate how gullible people can be when it comes to information spread on social media. He has expressed no remorse for spreading panic, stating that the website should have been an obvious satire.
Yet Moya’s website is only one among 300,000 Google search results – and some of those appear to be written by people who truly believe the CDC is engaged in a zombie-denial conspiracy. (And there are a few that seem to be focused on using zombie fears to get a few dollars through Amazon’s affiliate marketing program and Google ads.) For every blog post, Yahoo Answers question, or comment thread on a news article asking about the purported virus, there’s at least one person who refuses to be convinced that the virus is a hoax, usually stating something to the effect of, “Well of course the government is going to deny it,” or “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s real.”
What is it about distrust of the government that makes such a story seem believable to people? How could so many people fall for this story, and continue to cling to it even after the major source of information on the subject has been proven to be a hoax? Are people simply watching too many zombie movies, or is something else going on?