Our technology-driven generation uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share thousands of ideas across the globe every day. In the past couple of months, the Internet has exploded with tweets, photos, and memes spreading the word about, and often poking fun at, the world’s most recent buzz topic: Ebola.

If you have access to these social media sites, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen the whirlwind of Ebola jokes — the “Sexy Ebola Nurse” Halloween costume is but one of many examples. A simple search online for  “Ebola jokes” or “Ebola memes” will give you thousands of links and photos making light of the epidemic. 

I use the world “buzz” to describe the way Ebola has been followed online, because that is how the situation is being presented.  

In fact, the Ebola epidemic is anything but a mere buzz word; it’s a serious and deadly issue that is affecting the lives of thousands of West Africans living in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Platforms like Twitter have permitted the light humour and funny posts about Ebola, but Ebola is anything but humorous. The epidemic has taken 4,960 lives and has infected some 13, 268 people as of November 7. Only one of those killed  lived in the United States.

So, why is it so easy to make light of a serious issue like Ebola? It probably has something to do with the fact that Ebola poses no tangible threat to North American tweeters behind their screens — that is, until a story like Thomas Duncan’s breaks on the news. Duncan travelled from Liberia, where he was born, to visit family and friends in Texas, where he was diagnosed with Ebola. He died on October 8 from the virus. 

It is always difficult, and frankly inappropriate, to find humour in other fatal afflictions. The relative risk of developing or contracting a disease like cancer or AIDS in the West has always protected those illnesses from being regularly turned into laughing matters. 

The only real reason Ebola remains such a popular source of humour is that most of us know it won’t happen to us. It is acceptable to make fun of it precisely because we don’t fear it. 

For some people, it is difficult to understand the harm that comes from treating others’ problems with insensitivity. Being so far removed from such a devastating problem causes people to forget or ignore the terrible suffering it causes.

The reality is that Ebola is a disease that is still affecting thousands of people around the world, whether they are miles away or close to home. The Ebola jokes need to stop, because they were never really funny to begin with.

Sara Omer is a second-year student studying political science at St. Michael’s College.