Unfounded conspiracy theories spread online after Baltimore bridge collapse

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Outlandish conspiracy theories circulated on X after a container ship collided with a major bridge in Maryland, causing it to collapse, early Tuesday morning.

The ship hit a supporting structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which is located southeast of the Baltimore metropolitan area. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and said the calamity that knocked down the bridge was likely the result of an accident and not an act of terrorism.

As rescuers search for survivors, some online conspiracy theorists have attempted to uncover a nonexistent plot to explain the collision.

Major news events — like the pandemic, natural disasters and mass shootings — now consistently serve as fodder for fringe figures, many of them on the far right, to amplify their world views that often feature shadowy cabals or major unseen threats. 

Once relegated to certain corners of the internet, these figures have flourished on X since Elon Musk acquired the platform and removed many of the rules that once tried to limit the spread of false claims. Musk has garnered backlash in the past for amplifying conspiracy theories and restoring accounts for known conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. A spokesperson for X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some on Tuesday claimed that the shipping vessel came under “cyberattacks,” or that Covid-era lockdowns were to blame. There have been no reports suggesting that any of these conspiracies are remotely true. In response to some of the posts, X had a “readers added context” note/disclaimer, in which people fact-checked the posters. 

But it’s not just so-called keyboard warriors who are posting the theories. Several conspiracies were elevated by public officials on TV and by those with massive followings on social media. 

On Fox Business, anchor Maria Bartiromo falsely suggested the “wide-open border” could have something to do with the collision, a clip of which circulated on X. No link to immigration has been made by officials. 

A spokesperson for Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Controversial influencer Andrew Tate shared a conspiracy that falsely suggested the ship had been “cyber-attacked,” citing that in the video of the collision, the ship’s lights appear to turn off just before impact. 

In video leading up to and of the incident, around 1:24 a.m. EDT, the ship’s lights turn off for a minute but then flicker back on. About 10 seconds later, smoke is seen coming from the ship’s chimney. At 1:26 a.m., the ship appears to turn and moments later loses its lights again. They come back on a half a minute later.

A spokesperson for Tate did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Alex Jones responded to Tate, writing in a post: “Looks deliberate to me.” 

Michael Flynn, who was national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, appeared to suggest it was not an accident in a post on X.

A spokesperson for Flynn declined to comment.

His account was previously removed from X, then known as Twitter, in January 2021 after he promoted a conspiracy theory around the 2020 election. At the time, the platform cited its policy against “coordinated harmful activity.” He was reinstated on Jan. 6, 2023 and posted a message “to personally thank” Musk for allowing him back.

Another unsubstantiated claim that circulated X on Tuesday was made by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

In a clip of his interview with Newsmax, Schlapp suggested that the Francis Scott Key Bridge’s infrastructure and transportation services were weakened by Covid lockdowns. Later, he suggested drugs could be behind the collision.

Maersk, a shipping company, confirmed in a statement that the ship, called Dali, which is operated and managed by a company called Synergy Group, had been charted to transport its customers’ cargo.

Synergy said in a statement that Dali had “collided with one of the pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, Baltimore whilst under pilotage with two pilots onboard.”

The company said all 22 crew members onboard at the time of the crash were accounted for and there were no injuries or any oil pollution.



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