Facebook on September 13 said that it is removing “false claims” made by followers of certain right-wing groups on social media that Oregon wildfires were started by extremists belonging to the left. Facebook’s policy communications director Andy Stone took to Twitter on Sunday saying that the social media giant was removing rumours from its platform based on confirmation from law enforcement agencies. Andy said that these rumours are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the wildfires and protecting the public.
This comes a day after the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Portland division on September 11 clarified that the reports it had received that extremists are setting wildfires in Oregon are untrue. “Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away from local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control. Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources,” the FBI had said on Twitter.
Officials in Oregon said they have been inundated with calls about the false online rumors that members of the loosely organized left-wing protest group antifa had been arrested for starting the fires, a rumor which was promoted on social media by followers of the right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory. “Our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in Douglas County,” according to a Facebook post from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities in Oregon warned Saturday they were preparing for a “mass fatality incident” as the fires that have killed at least 28 people since August and burned nearly 5 million acres along the west coast of the US left many people still unaccounted for.