A hoax claiming that communication lines in Washington, D.C. were jammed to cover up violence against protesters went viral late Sunday night on social media, thanks to suspicious Twitter accounts and a screenshot from a TV show.
The claim, based around the hashtag “#DCBlackout,” had been mentioned more than 350,000 times on Twitter as of Monday morning and began trending nationwide. It was complemented by posts on Facebook and Reddit that also claimed that telephone lines and social media posts from Washington, D.C. were being blocked.
But there’s no proof that there was any communication “blackout.” And the claims made by social media promoters of the “#DCBlackout” are easily debunked.
Many of the claims promoting the idea of a blackout came from little-known Twitter accounts that had only been created in April or May, with no identifiable person behind them. Often, the tweets came packaged with a set of screenshots purporting to show a cover-up of some kind.
One widely circulated tweet screenshot, for example, came from an account called @sarahxo85267698 that has since been deleted from Twitter.
“OMG THEY JAMMED PHONES EVERYTHING IS JAMMED I REPEAT GET AWAY FROM SHOOTINGS / KILLING,” read a tweet from the account.
The hashtag was also boosted by several verified Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers, including social media comedian Abby Jasmine and pro wrestler David Starr.
Another widely circulated image purported to show a giant explosion over Washington, D.C., with the implication that the city was under a communications blackout to cover up the extent of the damage. But the explosion picture was actually taken from the ABC thriller series Designated Survivor.
Promoters of the hoax also showed what appeared to be a screenshot feed from a television control room that showed a number of channels showing basic test patterns, with the claim that it was proof that television stations were being blocked by the government. One #DCBlackout tweet with the image claimed that it was “a list of cameras that are supposed to all work in D.C.” garnered nearly 1,000 retweets.
The explanation for the test patterns is simpler, however. The image appears to come from a YouTube livestream showing television feeds aggregated by Cox Media Group. While the feed that screenshot was taken from was deleted, according to a Google spokesperson, a similar feed on Monday—when the supposed blackout was “over”—still showed channels with test patterns.
And there’s one more problem with the blackout theory: people who were there reported no issues with “jamming” or a blackout. Journalists who covered the protests at the White House tweeted that they hadn’t had any problems posting tweets or sending text messages.
“I’ve been out near the White House since 4 am and haven’t experienced any outage,” local television reporter Victoria Sanchez tweeted.