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It began with this bit of AP fact-checking:
CLAIM: Scenes from the Maui wildfires show cars and buildings badly damaged near trees and poles that remain standing, suggesting a wildfire wasn’t the cause.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Such observations from the fires on the Hawaiian island are not unusual, experts say. Wildfires often spew fiery embers that hit larger targets like homes and cars. Trees that catch fire are typically not completely vaporized, in part because of their water content.
THE FACTS: Amid the devastating wildfires in Maui, some social media users are advancing claims that visuals of the aftermath suggest a fire isn’t actually to blame.
“The powers to be are at work again. This was no wildfire,” a voiceover on one Facebook video states, showing photos of Maui wreckage. “A wildfire that demolishes buildings, leaving trees standing, leaving restaurant umbrellas and trees untouched – yet having the power to destroy a boat in the middle of the ocean … What we are seeing here is definitely no wildfire. Wildfires do not completely burn out vehicles, glass and all, yet leaving nearby trees and utility poles still standing upright.”
Maybe I’ll get to visit Hawai’i again, but likely not in this lifetime.
Federal responders in Hawai’i are being targeted by social media disinformation. This is a threat to the social ontology of a natural disaster that is also human in origin. Social ontology is the study of the nature and properties of the social world. It is concerned with analyzing the various entities in the world that arise from social interaction.
An Ecosocialist ontology for Hawai’l would study the nature and properties of Maui Hawai’i’s social world as an actual world that is mediated and assaulted by disinformation mongers who cannot stop recycling some tired falsehoods. This would be the RWNJ propaganda element that seeks to obscure the real social and ecological relations, such as with the various corporations and large scale land owners in Hawai’l.
Social ontology is the study of the nature and properties of the social world. It is concerned with analyzing the various entities in the world that arise from social interaction.
A good deal of the work in social ontology takes place within the social sciences (see sections 5.1–5.8).
Social ontology also addresses more basic questions about the nature of the social world. One set of questions pertains to the constituents, or building blocks, of social things in general. For instance, some theories argue that social entities are built out of the psychological states of individual people, while others argue that they are built out of actions, and yet others that they are built out of practices. Still other theories deny that a distinction can even be made between the social and the non-social.
A different set of questions pertains to how social categories are constructed or set up. Are social categories and kinds produced by our attitudes? By our language? Are they produced by causal patterns? And is there just one way social categories are set up, or are there many varieties of social construction?
The usual suspects have brought an old trope back because they lack imagination.
THE NATIONAL INTEREST JAN. 28, 2021 Marjorie Taylor Greene Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser https://t.co/KBnVQ3fSAl
In right wing circles, conspiracy theorists are blaming the Hawai’i wildfires on space lasers and suggest it’s part of a globalist plot to buy the land and traffic children.
Images and videos showing the wreckage on the Hawaiian island are spreading on social media, but not all are accurate. As is typical with natural disasters or similar breaking news events, some users have shared unrelated photos and videos to spread a conspiracy theory that the wildfires did not have a natural cause.
Claim: Images show a directed energy weapon beam that caused the Maui fires
This image is being shared on social media since the wildfires in Hawaii killed many and caused high-level destruction. It shows a light beam connecting the ground and sky, with smoke at the bottom. We see a hilly, green area with a beach and water in front of it, which could lead to the assumption that it might be Hawaii. The text reads, "This photo is circulating social media. Apparently, this beam was captured before the Hawaii fires. Can anyone confirm?"
Another image showing a beam of light connecting the ground and the sky is being shared on social media. In this particular post on X, formerly known as Twitter, the user claims that "the fire damage in Hawaii leaves open the question of whether the fire was caused by a [Directed] Energy Weapon (DEW)."
Both images are being used to spread the claim that the recent wildfires on Maui were started by weapons that use highly focused energy, like a laser, microwave or particle beam, to damage a target.
Both images are unrelated to the wildfires and are actually from events dating back to 2018. The first image has nothing to do with the Maui wildfires. It was taken on May 22, 2018, during the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in California at the then-called Vandenberg Air Force Base. It can be traced back with the help of a reverse image search. The photo was originally posted on SpaceX's Instagram account.
Both images do not show DEW attacks, nor are they connected to the recent wildfires in Maui in any form. But this is not the first time this conspiracy theory has been spread. It first emerged during the 2020-21 California wildfires.
"Marines Neutralize Fleeing FEMA Convoy in Maui," says an August 20, 2023 headline from Real Raw News, a website AFP has repeatedly fact-checked for publishing disinformation. It uses a “Christian-based crowdfunder”
Real Raw News is owned and operated by Michael Baxter, a former mainstream journalist and former English teacher. I can be reached at email@example.com I delete all trollish email without reading them.
Real Raw News has published many fabricated stories debunked by AFP, including baseless allegations of arrests and Covid-19 conspiracy theories. Social media users often share the articles as if they were true, despite a disclaimer on the website's "About Us" page saying it contains "humor, parody and satire."
In January 2021, media monitor NewsGuard reviewed Real Raw News and found "stories on the site generally promote conspiracy theories and other debunked claims, including about US politics" (archived here).
Rumors and conspiracy theories: Authorities try to stamp out Maui wildfire disinformation
Story by Ben Gutierrez •1w
WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Government officials are blasting social media posts that they say are spreading misinformation about the Maui wildfires, especially the blaze in Lahaina that has so far claimed 111 lives.
“Do not rely on people who fancy themselves as influencers,” Gov. Josh Green said at a briefing Wednesday.
There have been posts speculating about the cause of the fire and also claims that federal emergency agencies can’t be trusted.
Special Section: Maui Wildfires
“You have people who have predators on social media. We know that for a fact. We have people who want to spread negativity,” the governor said.
One post claimed FEMA was confiscating shipping containers loaded with supplies for Maui.
FEMA has its own social media, and said it’s actually just coordinating with relief agencies. Another FEMA post tries to debunk a rumor that people who apply for federal assistance could have their property confiscated.
Hawaii fires: spread of conspiracy theories reveals tech firms’ failings
From secret ‘energy weapon’ starting fires to a global cabal razing the town for an experiment – false theories are fast gaining ground
“What we are seeing after the Maui fire has been very similar to what we have seen after a number of disasters, man-made or otherwise, which is an attempt to blame a secret cabal for creating terrible conditions in order to usher in a new world order,” said Mike Breen, chief executive officer of the anti-extremism organization Human Rights First.
These theories have had devastating real-world impacts, including the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which a white supremacist killed 23 people and injured 22 others and cited the great replacement theory as motivation.
Experts say the spread of such theories can be attributed to the algorithms central to tech platforms, which prioritize content that receives more engagement.
“We know companies like Meta weigh the most important material on the platforms based on engagement, which often tends to be either vitriolic content, conspiratorial content or something that’s controversial,” said Katie Paul, director of the non-profit tech watchdog the Tech Transparency Project (TTP). “After disasters, when there is a lot of online content related to a particular event, these mechanisms help to amplify some of that harmful content above more authoritative sources.”
In some cases, platforms inadvertently prioritize such content. A study conducted by the TTP and anti-hate group the Anti-Defamation League found that the search function on Facebook or Instagram will auto-complete certain terms with conspiracy theories, with the phrase “World Economic Forum” returning results for “World Evil Forum” that include conspiracy theories.
“This is a clear example of how even in something as simple as search results, the platform’s are weighing conspiracy content over more legitimate content on the websites,” Paul said.
Maui wildfire victims fear land grab may threaten Hawaiian culture
KAANAPALI, Hawaii, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Deborah Loeffler felt she could not lose much more after a wildfire destroyed the home in Maui where five generations of her family have lived, and a son died the same day on the U.S. mainland.
Grieving and overwhelmed, Loeffler was soon beset by emails with unsolicited proposals she sell the Lahaina beachfront plot in Maui where her grandfather built their teal-green wooden home in the 1940s.
"It felt like we had vultures preying on us," said Loeffler, 69, a retired flight attendant, sitting in the brown-carpeted hotel room in Maui to which she was evacuated, an untouched container of cooked powdered egg and cold potato by her bedside.
Her experience will be familiar to people in places such as Paradise, California, or northern New Mexico, where buyers moved in to try to obtain distressed property after blazes in 2018 and 2022.
Loeffler fears a land grab on Maui would mean the loss of Hawaiian culture.
In Hawaii, the fire exacerbated a chronic shortage of affordable housing, potentially accelerating a drain of multi-generational families from the U.S. state looking for places they can afford to live. The population of Native Hawaiians in the state dropped below the number living on the U.S. mainland over the last decade, according to U.S. Census data.