Morocco continues to struggle from the effects of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on September 8, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more.
As rescue efforts continue following the country’s deadliest earthquake in over a century, a viral social media trend has emerged portraying the natural disaster as man-made and spreading fake content about what caused it.
One example is a TikTok influencer, titan5151, who posted a nine-second video that the user claims was filmed in Morocco right before the earthquake. The video shows a burst of light and illuminated spherical objects circling in the air, accompanied by more flashes of light.
The video is announced with viral English and Arabic language hashtags cherry-picked to maximize outreach. Most of the Arabic language hashtags used by titan5151 have tens of millions of views while three have 7-10 billion views.
The video caption reads:
“Large lightning appears before earthquake in Morocco with unknown causes.”
Everything about that post is false: the video is not from Morocco, it does not show any lightning before the earthquake, it was not filmed immediately before the earthquake, and it was modified with CGI to portray an unreal event.
Yet, the post received 220.7K likes, 11.8k comments and 27.2k shares at the time of this writing.
Many of the commenters referenced HAARP, the United States High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. But the frequency ranges in which HAARP transmits do not occur at the levels of the atmosphere that produce the Earth’s weather (more on that later).
Some of the latest comments on the post include: "a kind of haarp project," "it weather control device," and "America is already attacking the other nations."
Titan5151's “Morocco lighting” video was first posted to TikTok in May 2020 by a user called Jay Hideaway. The original post described the scene as a UFO sighting in Los Angeles, California.
On OpeanSea, a “marketplace for NFTs and crypto collectibles,” Jay Hideaway describes himself as a creator of “Original Apocalyptic Video Art.”
Many of Jay Hideaway’s videos include fantastical elements like dragons, zombies and monsters which are clearly computer-generated imagery.
Other social media users on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Russian language social networks, reposted Jay Hideaway’s video, or other videos purporting to show lights in the sky prior to the earthquake in Morocco.
Some of them falsely attributed the lights to HAARP.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, which took over operation of HAARP from the United States Air Force in August 2015, called HAARP “a large radio transmitter” used to study the ionosphere.
The ionosphere, a part of the Earth’s upper atmosphere that meets space, “is filled with particles that become electrically charged from interaction with the sun’s energy.”
The ionosphere can bounce radio waves back to Earth.
HAARP was launched to “analyze basic ionospheric properties” and help develop related radio communications and surveillance technology.
HAARP has long been a lightning-rod for conspiracy theorists, who have falsely portrayed it as a weather modification program that can cause destructive environmental events.
The University of Alaska said that the frequency ranges in which HAARP transmits do not occur at the levels of the atmosphere that produce the Earth’s weather.
"Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather,” the university said.
That has not stopped conspiracy theorists from claiming otherwise.
Following deadly February earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, as well as the August wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, conspiracy theorists spread videos and images showing lightning strikes or beams of light, falsely attributing them to HAARP or other U.S. government efforts to weaponize the weather.
In 2010, former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez claimed a U.S. naval weapons test caused a devastating earthquake in Haiti. Chavez referenced a report from Venezuela’s ViVe TV, which cited a report from Russia’s Northern fleet.
That story was picked up by Russian state media, which has spread speculation about HAARP for years.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a VOA sister organization, noted at the time that a report on Russian state broadcaster RT did not mention that Russia's Northern Fleet appeared to be the original source of the Chavez claim.
Former Minnesota governor Jessie Ventura also described HAARP as a “an invisible death ray” and a means of “mind control.”
Ventura hosted a show on RT America until the channel shuttered in March 2022. U.S. satellite carriers dropped RT America after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Still, some videos showing flashes of light in Morocco at the time of the earthquake do not appear to have been manipulated. It also was not the first time a strange phenomena involving lights coincided with an earthquake.
A September 2017 earthquake in Mexico, for example, was accompanied by fuzzy green smears in the sky.
Scientists have attributed such sightings during earthquakes to various potential causes, including power flashes — green or blue bursts of light sparked by moving or collapsing power lines.
Discharges of light that manifest in different ways during seismic events have also been attributed to natural phenomena called earthquake lights.
The purported causes of earthquake lights vary, and they reportedly occur prior to or during earthquakes.
Accounts of earthquake lights span back millennia.
Meantime, natural disasters like the one that occurred in Morocco can be leveraged to spread panic related to apocalyptic or end-times prophecies.
Some believers from various faith traditions interpret general phenomena like natural disasters as a sign that the end of times or apocalypse are near.
One resident of Moulay Brahim, a village in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, told TRT World that when the earthquake struck, “[w]e thought it was the apocalypse.”
Researchers have noted that fake accounts on TikTok, YouTube and Twitter have disseminated manipulated or faked videos and other content to promote the belief that the Islamic apocalypse is imminent.