A Foreign Government, Oprah, and Fires in Maui: The Impact of Misinformation on Community Resiliency


Feb 23, 2024

Person fact-checking news on smartphone with magnifying glass, image by uniquepixel/Getty Images

Image by uniquepixel/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared on Domestic Preparedness on February 21, 2024.

Soon after wildfires ripped through the island of Maui in August 2023—causing more than $5 billion in damage—reports of online trolls, possibly backed by the Chinese government, used social media to spread falsehoods. Among the misinformation were a secret “weather weapon” test, space warfare, and even Oprah Winfrey causing the fires.

One reason a foreign government would bother pushing such ridiculous claims is simple. Crises and disasters are opportunities to undermine the national unity that forms in response to tragedy. U.S. adversaries, including China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and others, may gain an advantage when there is discord among the American public.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at domesticpreparedness.com.

Marek N. Posard is a military sociologist and Jessica Jensen is a policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND. Both are affiliate faculty members at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.