The Associated Press reports:
CLAIM: Two images of beams of light reaching up the sky prove recent wildfires on Maui were started by an “energy weapon.”
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Both images are unrelated to the fires on Maui. One photo shows the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from a California military base in May 2018. The other shows a flare from a controlled burn at an oil refinery in Ohio the same year.
THE FACTS: As images and videos showing the wreckage caused by the deadly wildfires spread on social media, some users are sharing unrelated photos in an effort to spread a baseless conspiracy theory that the cause was nefarious.
The BBC reports:
The misleading posts come from a variety of sources and accounts, but generally imply that “elites” or government agencies deliberately started the fires. Some of the most popular theories are couched in questions about a “narrative” and make claims that alternative views are being “censored”, despite collecting millions of views. One video viewed 10 million times claims to show a large explosion in Maui just before the fires.
But the video was originally a viral clip shared on TikTok in May showing a transformer explosion in Chile. Alongside the “directed energy weapon” rumours, speculation spread in viral posts that some of the island’s rich inhabitants and second-home owners deliberately started the wildfires to grab valuable land in Lahaina. Another viral thread was seen 10 million times on an X account that frequently spreads false information debunked by Community Notes.
The above-cited SpaceX photo was actually created in 2018 by its photographer using a long-exposure, resulting in a “streak shot.” Despite being debunked by Twitter’s Community Notes feature, the same accounts continue to spread that particular batshittery because Elon Musk now pays them for viral posts.
How a 5-year-old SpaceX photo fueled Maui wildfire conspiracy theoristshttps://t.co/uSemcv8SHT
— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) August 15, 2023
Hawaii wildfires: ‘Directed energy weapon’ and other false claims go viral https://t.co/In1kDUOtss
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) August 15, 2023
One #QIdiot thinks the Maui fires were started by a military weapon called the D.E.W and says it’s “no coincidence that mountain dew made a Maui Dew drink called burst, or should we say maui burst into flames?” https://t.co/52vLWYDbx9
— MrsMacon (@tmacon24) August 15, 2023