Don’t shout “I have Ebola” on a plane or bus — it’s like claiming you have a bomb, it freaks people out, and it will get you arrested.
Last week we saw what happened when a man joked he had Ebola on a plane. He was escorted off by guys in hazmat suits, and you could hear him say “I was just kidding.”
Now it’s happened again.
On Oct. 13, a man wearing a surgical mask accompanied by an unmasked woman got on a public bus that travels along Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times reported.
After a few minutes, the man stood up and shouted “Don’t mess with me, I have Ebola.” Then he threw his mask to the ground and both he and the woman got off the bus.
Now, both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office and the FBI are looking for the guy.
“Assuming this is a hoax, if people think it’s funny to do something like this, they’re not going to think it’s funny when they are arrested and prosecuted,” Los Angeles Metro spokesman Marc Littman was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.
There’s no reason to think the man actually has Ebola — it’s extremely unlikely, as there have been no cases in California and the man would have had to recently been somewhere that actually has the virus.
But even so, joking about Ebola isn’t going to be considered constitutionally protected free speech, according to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.
That’s “because it’s a knowing falsehood that has the potential to cause direct and substantial harm (seriously emotionally distressing fear of injury, the interference with daily activities caused by a quarantine, the cost needed to disinfect the bus, and so on),” he writes in the Post.
The bus driver immediately called in the incident and then offloaded passengers. The bus has been taken out of service for cleaning and the driver was checked out at the hospital and will be taking a couple weeks off work.
“I am sure it’s traumatizing for him and anyone,” Littman told the Los Angeles Times.
There was no physical or body fluid contact between the man and anyone else on the bus, and there’s really no reason to think this is anything different than the aforementioned plane incident.
But joking you have Ebola is a bad idea. And it just might land you in jail.
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