The West Coast is facing a threat with several fires burning across California and Oregon. It's a crisis that's costing lives and resources as firefighters put themselves in danger trying to get the fires under control.
Making this situation more dangerous? Conspiracy theories.
They've really come into the forefront over the last few years. Conspiracy theories have gone from funny stories about Bigfoot to directly inspiring tragedies like mass shootings. And the online anonymous group QAnon is among the worst perpetrators.
Thanks to QAnon followers, 911 dispatchers in Oregon have been overrun with calls about a false rumor concerning who started these wildfires.
"Authorities in Oregon are pleading with the public to only trust and share information verified by official sources about the unprecedented wildfires sweeping the state. The pleas come as law enforcement agencies described 911 dispatchers being overrun with calls about a false online rumor that 'Antifa' members had been arrested for setting the fires--a claim promoted by the anonymous account behind the QAnon conspiracy theories," CNN reported.
Enough people in this country are already scared as they imagine thousands of Antifa members coming to their hometowns to burn the place down. So who in that particular crowd is going to question claims that Antifa started wildfires in Oregon? If you're going to burn a city, what's stopping you from burning a forest?
But these baseless theories come at the worst time and cause actual harm. Operators in 911 centers have one of the toughest jobs in the country, directing emergency services and aid to dangerous situations. Clog those vital lines up with unproven claims and online rumors, and you exacerbate an already deadly circumstance.
Law enforcement agencies are already stretched thin trying to handle evacuations and other emergency preparations. They don't have time to go searching for forest-hating Antifa arsonists.
Folks need to trust that their local emergency management officials will provide the right information when the time comes, not nameless faceless online collectives who have nothing better to do than spread false information.
If you see something online that looks questionable, please do a little more research on it before acting. It could be a matter of life and death.