(AP/NEXSTAR) – Natural disasters are often fodder for people promoting fake stories and photos on social media, and the winter storm that hammered Texas, knocking out power and dropping temperatures below freezing, was no exception.
None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Fake tweet attributes climate change comment to Sen. Ted Cruz
CLAIM: In 2016, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted, “I’ll believe in climate change when Texas freezes over.”
THE FACTS: The tweet is fabricated. It cannot be found on Cruz’s verified Twitter account, nor is it on websites that track deleted tweets by public officials. The phony tweet spread on social media this week following an uproar over a trip the Republican senator took to Cancun, Mexico, while Texans grappled with a deadly winter storm. The crisis was held up as evidence that as climate change worsens, government officials need to do more to prepare for more extreme weather. Multiple Facebook and Twitter users re-posted the false tweet, noting that perhaps Cruz changed his stance on climate change after experiencing the abnormal subfreezing temperatures in Texas. “And the Green New Deal just got another supporter,” a Twitter user who shared the fake tweet wrote on Friday. In addition to the tweet not appearing on Cruz’s official Twitter account, it also does not appear on the digital archive Wayback Machine, nor can it be found on ProPublica’s Politwoops dataset listing tweets deleted by Cruz. His office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. Cruz came under intense criticism for fleeing Texas amid dire conditions as numerous media outlets, including The Associated Press, reported on his family trip to Cancun. He returned home a day after arriving in Mexico, calling the trip a “mistake.”
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
Frozen wind turbines were not the leading cause of Texas power outages
CLAIM: Wind turbines freezing over in the cold weather were primarily responsible for Texans losing heat and electricity this week.
THE FACTS: Failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels combined, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, said in a press conference Tuesday. With millions of Texas residents without power this week amid frigid temperatures, some government officials and conservative commentators falsely claimed that wind turbines and solar energy were the main culprits. “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “The experiment failed big time.” “This is a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana. A viral photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine was shared with claims it showed a “chemical” solution being applied to one of the massive wind generators in Texas. The only problem? The photo was taken in Sweden years ago, not in the U.S. in 2021. The helicopter sprayed hot water onto the wind turbine, not chemicals. Natural gas and coal provide the bulk of electricity in Texas, “and that’s the bulk of the cause of the blackouts,” according to Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. ERCOT said Tuesday that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources. On top of that, while Texas has ramped up wind energy in recent years, the state still relies on wind power for only about 25% of its total electricity, according to ERCOT data. The agency confirmed that wellhead freeze-offs and other issues curtailing supply in natural gas systems were primarily to blame for new outages on Tuesday after severe winter weather caused failures across multiple fuel types in recent days. Renewable energy is a popular scapegoat for new problems as more frequent extreme weather events strain infrastructure, according to Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. “It’s easy to focus on the thing that you can see changing as the source of why an outcome is changing,” Grubert told the AP. “The reality is that managing our systems is becoming more difficult. And that’s something that is easy to blame on the reaction to it, but it’s not actually the root cause.”
—- Associated Press writers Ali Swenson in Seattle and Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
Posts share false FEMA phone number for storm aid in Texas
CLAIM: FEMA is paying for hotel rooms in Texas for anyone without heat and water. Call 1-800-745-0243.
THE FACTS: As winter storms ravaged much of the South, posts online shared inaccurate information targeting Texans in need. Posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook falsely claimed that Texans could call the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive a hotel room. “FEMA is paying for hotel rooms!!! In Texas Call 1-800-745-0243,” the text posts said. The posts encouraged users to pass the information along to Texans in need of a place to stay. “Please share, this is legit and been verified! Stay safe friends,” one Facebook post said. FEMA confirmed that the number is not a valid. The Associated Press called the number, which connected to a technical support line for the disaster relief agency. A FEMA spokesperson said the agency is not offering assistance for hotels and that the state of emergency declaration for Texas does not cover such assistance. “It covers such things as generators to help run police and fire stations or hospitals,” FEMA said in a statement. “It also covers supplies such as food, water and blankets.” On Sunday, Biden made a Texas emergency declaration allowing FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to respond with disaster relief.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
Photo of icy boats is from Switzerland, not Texas
CLAIM: Photo shows boats covered with ice in a marina in Galveston, Texas, during this week’s record freeze.
THE FACTS: As massive storms pummeled the southern Plains with snow, sleet and freezing rain this week, leaving millions without heat or electricity, a viral photo falsely claimed to show the severity of the cold in Galveston, Texas. The image, viewed more than 100,000 times on Facebook, featured a row of boats tied to a dock and covered in a thick layer of ice. “Meanwhile in Galveston,” read one post with the image. “Galveston Texas today,” read another post Tuesday. “This is a historic pic. Wow.” However, a reverse-image search reveals the photo of the frozen boats was taken more than a decade ago, and has gone viral online several times before this week. The image was originally captured by Swiss photographer Jean-Pierre Scherrer in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2005, according to posts on PBase.com, an online photo blog. Scherrer took several pictures of frozen boats, cars and trees near Lake Geneva after an ice storm. A note from Scherrer on the photo-sharing site clarifies that his photos were indeed taken in Geneva, Switzerland, not Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, or elsewhere. Even though the image is being shared in the wrong context, it’s true that severe winter weather has covered large swaths of Texas, including Galveston, in snow and ice.
— Ali Swenson
Video clip of Biden interview with People magazine was altered
CLAIM: People magazine video footage shows President Joe Biden stumped for words and unable to respond during an interview as his wife, first lady Jill Biden, looks on.
THE FACTS: The video was altered. The 33-second clip shows Jill Biden staring at her husband as he remains speechless. The clip began circulating on Sunday and had amassed almost a million views by Tuesday. It was was later taken down. The altered segment was taken from a Feb. 3 interview where the first couple discuss their marriage and first days in the White House. The video edited together close-ups of Biden to make it seem as though he was at a loss for words. The manipulated footage includes the words “not to be shown to public” across the bottom, which falsely suggests it was a behind-the-scenes clip. “The video posted on these twitter links were copied, altered and manipulated from PEOPLE’s video interview with the President and First Lady which originally ran on February 3, 2021,” Marnie Perez, a spokeswoman for People, said in an email. Social media users shared posts with the altered video on Facebook and Twitter. “The Commander-in-Chief, ladies and gentlemen…,” one post with more than 9,000 likes on Twitter said. Another caption with the altered video said, “biden’s reaction to Trump’s acquittal.” The official video from People can be found on the magazine’s website and on YouTube. In the interview, Biden discusses the role his wife played in his political career, “I’m not sure but for Jill, I don’t think I would have stayed involved in public life,” the president says. “Jill came along at a really important point and put the family back together.”
— Beatrice Dupuy
Wreath-laying ceremony video doesn’t show Biden faked inauguration
CLAIM: Video footage shows that certain aspects of the wreath-laying ceremony for President Joe Biden at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Jan. 20 were different from past presidents’ ceremonies, proving Biden’s inauguration was fake.
THE FACTS: Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration was official and he is the 46th president of the United States. Differences between Biden’s ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery and other presidential wreath-laying ceremonies in the past can be attributed to cold weather and coronavirus precautions, according to Shaunteh Kelly, chief of media relations for the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. The video titled “The Inauguration Deception” falsely claims that minor differences between the videos are proof Biden’s presidency is illegitimate. “I was looking at Biden’s inauguration again and I noticed none of the military had any ranks or honors on their jackets,” the narrator says in the video. It’s true that the soldiers wore different jackets in Biden’s ceremony than in the other ceremonies. However, there’s no nefarious reason for that. Instead, it’s because the clips of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama show them participating in wreath-laying ceremonies on warmer days — on Memorial Day in 2003 and Veterans Day in 2012, respectively — while Biden’s ceremony took place on a cold day in January 2021. “Per Army Regulation AR 670-1, awards and accommodations are authorized on ceremonial blouse but not on ceremonial overcoats or raincoats,” Kelly said. President Donald Trump’s ceremony in the video took place on Jan. 19, 2017, and military awards and accommodations were visible. That’s because the weather in Washington on that sunny day “did not warrant ceremonial overcoats,” according to Kelly. The narrator in the video also identifies differences in the ceremonial proceedings. For example, while Bush, Obama and Trump walked with a soldier to place the wreath on its stand, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did not, only stepping up to the wreath once it was already in place. That’s because the ceremonial proceedings were changed to accommodate COVID-19 precautions. “Bush, Obama and Trump’s wreath ceremonies captured in the video clips were all conducted prior to COVID-19,” Kelly said. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Army Military District of Washington has eliminated the wreath bearer’s movement position to adhere to CDC safety measures and physical distancing standards.” Footage of Trump participating in a wreath-laying ceremony during the pandemic, on Veterans Day in 2020, shows he followed the same precautions. The narrator also claims that Biden and Harris walking into the ceremony from the left was a break from the norm, but archival footage shows Bush and Obama walked in the same way. Finally, the narrator points out that Bush, Obama and their fellow former President Bill Clinton attended Biden’s ceremony. He suggests the presence of so many past presidents at the ceremony is a cause for suspicion. Not so, according to Kelly, who explained the former presidents were “invited guests of President Biden.”