Ivermectin, the Crate Challenge, and the Danger of Runaway Memes

Kyle Chayka in The New Yorker:

Memes become omnipresent for a variety of reasons. They might be fodder for entertaining video footage. They might provide a tool for people to express themselves, or cater to deep-seated hopes or anxieties. Ivermectin, which is used for some human applications as well as horse deworming, answered the desire for a covid miracle cure in the face of the United States’ recent surge in infections caused by the Delta variant. The drug has been the subject of medical studies for its supposed efficacy in treating covid-19, but there is little rigorous data on the subject, and one recent study found that it does not alleviate mild coronavirus symptoms. Still, over the past few months it has been publicized by figures such as Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and the Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. Joe Rogan, who hosted the ivermectin advocate Bret Weinstein on his podcast in June, announced on Wednesday that he had tested positive for covid-19, and claimed that he had been treated with a number of medications, including the dewormer. (YouTube has deleted some of Weinstein’s content promoting the drug.) The ivermectin phenomenon is a successor to Donald Trump’s obsessive touting of hydroxychloroquine, but the newly popular drug is even more dangerous because it can be self-administered without prescriptions. Indeed, some users have taken highly concentrated versions made specifically for animals. On August 26th, the C.D.C. released a health advisory warning of “severe illness” caused by ivermectin overdoses, including vomiting, diarrhea, and hallucination. Rather than accepting a free vaccine with minimal documented risk of side effects, people are buying a way to poison themselves—one man cited in the C.D.C. bulletin landed in the hospital for nine days.

Fuelled by viral misinformation, the mania has been countered through memetic channels in turn. On TikTok, hashtags like #ivermectin4covid and #ivermectinworks were becoming popular and netting millions of views.

More here.