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Conspiracy theories and misinformation surrounding the crisis in Texas are circulating.
Right-wing pundits and politicians are promoting some claims to discredit climate science.
Misinformation often thrives in moments of turmoil, experts told Insider.
While Texans sought warmth and electricity last week, some baselessly questioned whether the snowfall in their state was real.
"Look at this government snow right here," one man says in a TikTok video while crumbling up the snow in his hand. In another video, a woman uses a blowdryer on a snowball. "No drip," she says, appearing to claim that because the snow didn't melt to liquid when hit with heat, it was fake.
Several people have died during Winter Storm Uri, which brought snowfall and record-low temperatures to Texas. Because the state is accustomed to its warm climate, the state's energy infrastructure was not prepared for the storm. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) rolled out blackouts to protect the state's power grid, cutting off electricity for millions of people for days.
Conspiracy theories of outlandish proportions spread online - especially in far-right online spaces, including Telegram channels run by promoters of QAnon, the baseless far-right conspiracy theory alleging the existence of a "deep state" cabal of human traffickers made up of Democrats and celebrities.
The claims included the false allegations that the snow in Texas was fake and somehow engineered by President Joe Biden and that Bill Gates "blocking the sun" caused the bizarre weather. Many of these ideas made their way to TikTok, where people held flames to snowballs to "prove" that the snow was "fake." In actuality, due to a process called sublimation, some snow will turn to a gas rather than a liquid when heated in certain temperatures, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Google search trends throughout the week demonstrate the scope of this misinformation. On February 17, the peak of the crisis, "fake snow" was a top related-search-query for "Texas snow." The next day, "bill gates sun" was a breakout related-query, meaning that the searches grew by more than 5000%.
In addition to conspiracy theorists on social media, traditional right-wing media outlets are promoting misinformation about the cause of the storm, blaming green energy.
Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo who researches media persuasion, said people will "abuse the uncertainty" of an emergency situation "in order to promote their agendas."
Texas weather conspiracy theories are all over the internet
The fringe far-right conspiracy theory claiming that Bill Gates is trying to "block the sun" has been reimagined by climate-change deniers in light of the Texas catastrophe. Gates donated money to a Harvard climate experiment called SCoPEx, which is seeking ways to temper the sun in an effort to slow climate change. Gates' donation to the experiment, as well as other climate-change efforts, has made him a frequent scapegoat in the world of climate-science denialism.
One Telegram channel falsely purporting to be Thomas McInerney, a conspiracy theorist and retired United States Air Force general, referenced the bogus claim in a February 18 message to 164,460 subscribers. The post, which was forwarded to other channels and viewed more than 150,000 times, falsely claimed that the situation in Texas "was a planned attack." McInerney, a Trump supporter, has previously pushed the claim that COVID-19 was a "biological attack," but Defense News has reported that the account does not belong to the retired general.
On a Telegram channel popular among QAnon supporters, the idea that the Texas blackouts were "not a coincidence" also reached hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Another conspiracy theory spreading mostly on Facebook alleged that Biden had somehow manipulated the weather to cause the storm in Texas.
The theory appeared to originate from a post by conspiracy theorist Scott L. Biddle, as reported by PolitiFact, the fact-checking website run by the Poynter Institute. Facebook, which has announced increased efforts in cracking down on misinformation, labelled the post as false. Another post by Biddle questions whether the snow in Texas is "real." The February 16 post does not have a false information label and was shared 441 times as of Friday. Facebook declined to comment.
Brian Southwell, senior director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program in the Center for Communication Science at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, told Insider that misinformation can thrive when "people are worried or concerned for their own well-being," leading them to seek answers, and find information that is sometimes inaccurate.
One's social-media feed is often the first destination in those moments. Social-media feeds are curated not only by interest and social circle, but also by platform algorithms knowing what kind of content you're likely to share. "A vacuum can be a good recipe for a rumor to flourish," said Southwell, who is also an editor of the book "Misinformation and Mass Audiences."
Right-wing climate-change deniers contribute to the problem
With climate-related disasters, misinformation is often weaponized politically, Ophir, the University of Buffalo professor, told Insider.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic was downplayed by those with an incentive to do so, the Texas crisis - which is largely due to climate change, an already intensely politicized issue - has inspired a new wave of science denial.
Beyond the ludicrous ideas spreading on social media, one massive piece of misinformation is being promoted by right-wing politicians and media outlets. Prominent Republicans, Fox News hosts, and conservative websites have pushed the idea that wind and solar energy are to blame for Texas' disaster.
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson promoted the idea that green energy caused the failures of the state's power grid. Many Texas Republicans also blamed the electricity blackouts on frozen wind turbines.
But the majority of Texas energy providers that went offline used fossil fuels, not green energy. The right-wing narrative has also blamed the Green New Deal for the disaster, though no legislation from that leftist congressional climate-change proposal has passed.
Climate-change denial has even played a role in conspiracy theories spread by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known for her support of QAnon. Greene falsely claimed on Facebook in 2018 that the Camp Fires, the deadliest series of wildfires in California's history, were caused by lasers in space that were paid for by wealthy Jews. Scientists have said that the series of wildfires were partly fueled by climate change.
Ophir said that dramatic events like natural disasters or the pandemic lead many to place blame on others. "Scapegoating is a big part of dealing with uncertainty and trying to make sense of confusing or negative events," Ophir said.
Read the original article on Insider