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Online Conspiracies About the Baltimore Bridge Collapse Are Out of Control

Conspiracists and far-right extremists are blaming just about everything and everyone for Tuesday morning’s Baltimore bridge collapse.

A non-exhaustive list of things that are getting blamed for the bridge collapse on Telegram and X include President Biden, Hamas, ISIS, P. Diddy, Nickelodeon, India, former president Barack Obama, Islam, aliens, Sri Lanka, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, Wokeness, Ukraine, foreign aid, the CIA, Jewish people, Israel, Russia, China, Iran, Covid vaccines, DEI, immigrants, Black people, and lockdowns.

The Francis Scott Key truss bridge collapsed when the MV Dali cargo ship collided with one of the bridge supports. Six construction workers, who were filling potholes on the bridge’s roadway at the time, are presumed dead. The ship is owned by Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private Ltd., and the 22-person crew were all Indian. The ship was en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the time of the accident.

This did not stop people from “asking questions” about the incident, a frequent conspiracist response to major events. And though conspiracy theorists are having a hard time pinpointing exactly what conspiracy caused the collapse, the one thing they do agree on is that this incident is a “black swan event.”

The term black swan event has been around for decades and is used to describe a major global event (typically in the financial markets) that can cause significant damage to a country’s economy. But in recent years, the term has been co-opted by the conspiracy-minded to explain an event triggered by the so-called deep state that would signal an imminent revolution, a third world war, or some other apocalyptic catastrophe.

One of the first people to call the bridge collapse a black swan event was disgraced former US national security adviser Michael Flynn. “This is a BLACK SWAN event,” he wrote on X. “Black swans normally come out of the world of finance (not military) … There are harbor masters for every single one of these transit points in America that are in charge of assuring the safety of navigation … start there.” Flynn’s post has been viewed 7.2 million times.

Misogynist influencer Andrew Tate, who has been charged in Romania with rape and human trafficking, also posted on X early on Tuesday morning, writing: “Nothing is safe. Black Swan Event imminent.” The post has been viewed almost 19 million times.

The term black swan quickly began trending on X, and soon conspiracists, extremists, and right-wing lawmakers began coming up with explanations for what or who triggered this “black swan event.”

One post claiming a link between the bridge collapse and the film Leave the World Behind has been viewed more than 1.2 million times. The post claimed that because the ship was headed to Sri Lanka, which has a lion on its flag, then the situation was linked to the ship that runs aground at the beginning of the film which was called White Lion. The post also points out that the film was produced by Obama.

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A post from Anthony Sabatini, a former Florida state congressman, declared, without evidence, that “DEI did this”—and its been viewed over 2.2 million times.

Some politicians have boosted the conspiracy as well. “Is this an intentional attack or an accident?” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an influential and conspiracy-minded member of the GOP, posted on X above a video shared by a prominent QAnon conspiracist.

Under previous iterations of X, formerly Twitter, such speculation would typically have gained little traction, as the algorithm would have prioritized trusted news sources and primary evidence. But under Elon Musk’s reign, anyone willing to pay for a blue check can have their posts artificially boosted by the algorithm. This means that conspiracies like this are ending up in the news feeds of millions of people.

On Telegram, one prominent election denier claimed the incident was linked to the fact that the bridge was named after Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words for the Star Spangled Banner, and was thus an attempt to undermine America.

“Don't let them erase our history,” the conspiracist wrote.

Investigators are looking into the cause of the tragic incident, but William DelBagno, the FBI special agent in charge, said on Tuesday that there are no indications of terrorism.

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