Serious accusations of all kinds pop on the internet every day. Some are so contrived as to be hilarious, while others prove disturbingly true.
But a recent case started with a single Facebook post, and now is either ending or thickening with a chime-in from the Chinese government. And it's about canned meat… made of human flesh.
Does this all sound a bit ludicrous? Like it can't possibly be actual news? Well, grab some popcorn, and welcome to the show.
According to The Independent, who has also just joined this bizarro, cannibalistic conversation, it all starts with a Facebook post by Barbara Akosua Aboagye, a seemingly random woman in Accra, Ghana who founded a woman's apparel line and has about 1,280 friends on the social network.
"Please send this to all your contacts, it's very important," she wrote in a public Facebook post on May 3. "Chinese people have started producing corned beef with their dead bodies and sending them to Africa . Please stay away from corned beef irrespective of brand, most especially in Africa and from Afro-Asian grocery shops [emoji]"
Accompanying the post is three images: one of a can of "Light Meat Tuna" (never mind that the text of her post mentions corned beef), one of some workers in a meat processing facility around a vaguely human-shaped carcass, and a close up of the carcass that looks like someone molded a few of Lady Gaga's meat dresses into the form of a woman for a school project.
Despite having only eight comments (sample comments: "yh God punish dem," "Why r dey doing dz to us"), the post has somehow accrued over 26,253 shares.
Somewhere over the course of this ascent to virality, Zambian and South African tabloids—including Mzansi Live and Daily Post—began to springboard off the post and report on the claim as truth. And then, as is often the case with the internet, the rumors began to rage out of control like an unstoppable brushfire.
In fact, Daily Post's "article" about the topic is still up, with the headline "SHOCKING: The Chinese are sending canned meat to Africa. Read and share."
The body of the post is even more outrageous, arguing, "One can not deny the possibilities of this being true hence we all know that the Asians are among the largest population in the entire world," and claiming that the nation's overpopulation and corporate greed is to blame for its alleged propensity for canning and selling the dead bodies of its citizens. Who needs journalistic integrity, anyway?
It gets even better: The photo of the proposed "human carcass" in Aboagye's post is from a 2012 Capcom PR stunt, a fake "human meat market" promoting the sixth installation of wildly popular video game series Resident Evil. The exhibition was held at Smithfield Meat Market in East London, and proceeds went to the Limbless Association, a charity that aids people who have lost limbs. Couldn't make this up if we tried, folks.
Regardless, the canned meat story got so out of control that Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Yang Youming, surely in a state of exasperation, issued a statement on Chinese State Media this week, as follows: "Today a local tabloid newspaper is openly spreading a rumor, claiming that the Chinese use human meat to make corned beef and sell it to Africa. This is completely a malicious slandering and vilification which is absolutely unacceptable to us… We hereby express our utmost anger and the strongest condemnation over such an act."
The Zambian government is feeling pretty embarrassed, especially because China has thrown lots of money into Zambia's mining industry, though recent widespread financial woes have led to factory closures and layoffs.
"The government of Zambia regrets the incident in view of the warm relations that exist between Zambia and China," Christopher Mulenga, Zambia's deputy defense minister, said in a statement, responding to Chinese state media. "We shall make sure that relevant government authorities will take up the investigations and give a comprehensive statement."
One would hope so.
Well, that was probably the definition of much ado about nothing. And to Barbara Akosua Aboagye: in the future, you should try checking Snopes.