Speed Reads

fact check

Tweets about a D.C. cell service blackout appear to stem from bot-driven misinformation campaign

Sunday night protests in Washington, D.C. turned fiery after sundown, but hundreds of tweets claiming an internet blackout in the city very likely weren't true.

The hashtag #DCBlackout started trending on Twitter Sunday night, with alleged protesters claiming their messages and photos weren't going through and claiming an orchestrated cell phone service outage was to blame. The fact that a hashtag about a supposed blackout was popular enough to be trending on Twitter was questionable enough, and by the next morning, reporters started explaining what likely happened.

Reporters covering the protests and most nonviolent protesters had gone home to stay safe and get some sleep, creating what looked like a social media void that allowed misinformation-spreading bots to take over, CBS News' Christina Ruffini reported. Many of the accounts sharing the hashtag had very few followers and generic profile pictures, only backing up the fact that they seemed to be fake. And as NetBlocks, a nonprofit that tracks internet outages worldwide, showed, Washington's services appeared consistent throughout the weekend.

Motherboard's Joseph Cox did note that NetBlocks wouldn't have been able to pick up a phone blackout on a smaller level, though he was "skeptical" of any blackout claims. And as more reporters who cover disinformation are pointing out, it's important to be skeptical of any conspiracies, especially hashtags, gaining popularity as protests continue. Kathryn Krawczyk