Since the deadly Feb. 6 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria and was felt in several countries in the region, a number of conspiracy theories — seemingly deriving from science fiction movies — have spread through the streets and on social media
On Feb. 21, after one of the aftershocks felt in Lebanon, “we took to the streets, out of fear that the building would collapse, and I heard many people around me say that the tremors were artificial, man-made,” said Rana*, a resident of Beirut’s southern suburbs.
In the streets of Antakya, a large Turkish city that was flattened by the earthquake, conspiracy theories abound. Caroline Hayek, L’Orient-Le Jour’s correspondent on the site, met with a man who claimed that the devastating earthquake was caused by Israel. The man said he was convinced that Israel had installed cables beneath Turkey, emitting electromagnetic fields that caused the tremor. Armenia has also been accused by online conspiracy peddlers of an alleged “terrorist” involvement in the disaster.
A ‘punitive’ operation by NATO?
According to the seemingly most popular conspiracy theory related to the earthquake on social media, the disaster was caused by radio waves from the Alaska-based HAARP, a US research program designed to study the ionosphere, the upper layer of the atmosphere. Although refuted by numerous reputable publications, the theory has been popping up regularly in recent weeks.
Some social media users have claimed that the earthquake was accompanied by a light or an orange-colored cloud, which would explain that it was human-made. Others, also convinced of this theory, claim that HAARP caused the earthquake as a punitive operation by NATO or the US against Turkey.
Stew Peters, the US conspiracy theorist known for promoting COVID-19 misinformation, is among those who support this conspiracy theory. In a Feb. 11 post on his Twitter account, he attached a photo of a large orange-red cloud and wrote: “This is the HAARP-made cloud over Turkey just before the earthquake.”
That lenticular cloud was spotted in Bursa, Turkey back in January https://t.co/Q0KEG6ozK0— HoaxEye (@hoaxeye) February 11, 2023
HAARP can’t make lenticular clouds or cause earthquakes. See: https://t.co/vsjiULnlzr pic.twitter.com/QPwLLu9Nj7
Other users also relayed this conspiratorial information on social media, including those close to QAnon, an American political conspiracy theory and movement.
Commenting on these orange-red cloud photos, several online fact-checking platforms, supported by a BBC article and scientific explanations, explained that the cloud is not linked to the earthquake and that the photo is that of a lenticular cloud observed in January in Bursa, Turkey. This rare type of cloud is a natural phenomenon that occurs in high mountainous areas.
What is HAARP?
Created in the 1990s at the initiative of the US Congress, the HAARP program wrote on its website that it is “the world’s most capable high-power, high-frequency transmitter for study of the ionosphere” that “starts at about 60 to 80 km altitude and extends up above 500 km altitude.” The program’s facility consists of 180 high-frequency antennas installed in Fairbanks, Alaska.
This research program has been subjected regularly to unfounded theories on social media, accusing it of being Washington’s “geophysical weapon.”
In response to these accusations, AFP’s fact-checking service reported that “the claim is false; experts told AFP Fact Check it is impossible for HAARP to disrupt the weather in such a way that it creates clouds.
The scientists also explained that “seismic lights,” which social media users presented as proof of HAARP’s involvement, are phenomena regularly observed during earthquakes.
HAARP’s Director Jessica Matthews told AFP that “the research equipment at the HAARP site cannot create or amplify natural disasters.”
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
Since the deadly Feb. 6 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria and was felt in several countries in the region, a number of conspiracy theories — seemingly deriving from science fiction movies — have spread through the streets and on social mediaOn Feb. 21, after one of the aftershocks felt in Lebanon, “we took to the streets, out of fear that the building would...