With a flood of images and videos coming out of the affected area in southern and central Turkey and western Syria from the February 6, 2023 series of quakes, there are MANY inaccuracies, misattributed content, conspiracies, and pseudoscientific claims being shared and promoted by nonexperts.
It is sad because the real disaster provided more than enough drama to handle. The images from Turkey (Turkiye) and Syria are horrific and disturbing. It is detestable that fake information is embraced and often used for ugly purposes. In this post, I collect some of the more prominent bullshit circulating about the catastrophic event and point out that it’s not that difficult to spot the problems. In short, do not distribute such posts on social media until you have multiple and legitimate sources to support outrageous claims being made.
Earthquake lights videos
The following video seems legitimate and appeared on social media shortly after the quake. It was supposedly from Hatay province but I can’t verify that. The video depicts flashing lights in the sky that were then interpreted as “earthquake lights”.
Some details to note: The shaking is not particularly bad at first. The blue flashes are seen in the distance. The second large flash (around 0:13) coincides with the lights going out in the foreground. As the shaking really affects the person with the camera, you can see blue flashes nearer to the location, possibly along the street. All of these characteristics together suggest we are seeing electrical transformers exploding and power lines arcing as they are broken.
In addition, an Italian site noted that there was stormy weather in the area at the time. So, possibly some of the lightning (in this or other videos of “earthquake lightning”) could have just been typical lightning.
As with other examples, such as those seen in the past few years in Mexico City and New Zealand, which look similar, odds are they are a result of electricity failures. They are not “piezoelectric” or “triboluminescence” as many armchair scientists are positing on social media. Those are over-simplistic and mistaken ideas about how earthquake lights might manifest. Beware of “experts” who suddenly speak authoritatively using big words who aren’t citing legitimate scientific research.
Another frequently shared video said to depict the sky during the time of the quake is far less credible. It’s not clear where this one came from but it shows pinkish-white flashes of light. Again, these appear to be explosions. However, most viewers ignore the date which is either set wrong or is evidence that this was not taken at the time of the quake because it reads 11-23-2022.
Worse than using old and outdated ideas, many are speculating that the sky flashes are related to HAARP – a research program that runs experiments and makes observations on the upper atmosphere. It has absolutely nothing to do with this research center which is located in Alaska. Anyone who suggests HAARP as a cause is steeped in conspiratorial content and doesn’t understand what HAARP is or how it works.
Finally, images and videos depicting a raging fire in the distance are genuine. But this did not occur prior to the quake but after as a result of gas fires that ignited after lines were damaged.
Animals acting strangely
The first video that came out suggesting that animals were behaving strangely prior to the quake was this one of birds flying around the city.
There is no indication of time or location in this short. When I first noticed it via Twitter feed, commenters said this was not unusual. Unless we have more detail and comparisons, there is nothing we can conclude about this video to say that animals (birds) reacted to some unusual environmental condition. One observation is that the birds are flying and landing; they are not flying away. If the birds detected some natural disaster, one would expect they would exit, not land.
A security camera recorded a free-roaming dog howling in the street. The context was added that it happened prior to the quake. Again, there is no indication of time or place. The earthquake took place at 4:15 AM local time. We don’t know how long prior to the event this dog let loose his mournful howl or why. The claim was submitted to the Snopes fact checking site but they came to no conclusions. While unnerving, a random dog howling in the street does not mean that animals know what is coming.
Anomalies in the sky
In mid-January, social media feeds were excited over a strange red lenticular cloud that appeared over the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa. Because Chinese culture associates strange clouds with earthquakes, people are now connecting this occurrence to the earthquake weeks later. There is no connection. The cloud was caused by the movement of air in the mountainous region in the far northwest portion of the country. The epicenter of the quake was near the south east city of Gaziantep. There is no physical connection between the two.
A video being passed around TikTok suggests that a bright fast moving light in the sky prior to the quake was related to it. Not sure who hasn’t seen a SpaceX launch, but that’s what this is. It’s another example of wrong place, wrong time, with no connection to the earthquake. Notice how this screen cap shows that the original video was taken from someone else and the label placed across. It’s not clear if people do this for clicks but someone must make the decision to link the events together whether they know they are being deceptive or not.
Assertion that the quake was predicted
A notorious Dutchman named Frank Hoogerbeets posted on Twitter on February 3 that an earthquake was imminent in the region. But there are multiple problems with the conclusion that he “predicted” the quake. First, look at the wording – it’s general and describes an area that is extremely seismically active. Because he was not specific, this helped no one. He doesn’t explain why he thinks the time is ripe for the fault to break, he doesn’t indicate the location. He got lucky. It happens sometimes. What we can be sure of is that “geometry between celestial bodies” isn’t a sound basis for saying earthquakes will happen.
Hoogerbeets is a self-described “quake mystic” with a worldwide following. In 2018, he preached that a rare cosmic event at Christmas could trigger a “megaquake”. It didn’t happen. He’s well-known as one of those people who keep beating the drum about a coming quake. A broken clock is right twice a day. After many years of peppering the public with his predictions, he finally got lucky. You’d be foolish to put any trust in a guy with that kind of record and no reasonable mechanism except pseudoscientific hand waving. But lots of people are now erroneously calling him successful.
Belief that quake in Buffalo was related
Some 11 hours after the first quake on the Anatolian fault, a 3.8 magnitude quake rattled Buffalo, New York, a place not used to noticeable seismicity. Some people latched on to the correlation and assumed that the earth energy that caused one was related to the other. But there is no connection between them. The fault rupture was severe in Turkey-Syria but localized only to that area. The first quake caused a stress change that triggered aftershocks along that fault and connected faults. But such effects are not transmitted more than 500 km in distance.
Unfortunately, there are many people who subscribe to an apocalyptic vision of days and think that all natural anomalies or disasters are a signal of the end times. They aren’t aware that the earth is dynamic and quakes happen all the time, even in unexpected places.
In the past decade, news consumers have become accustomed to the relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis. When news of the latest event started to circulate, at least two videos showing tsunamis also began to circulate. Both depicted past events in other areas but they did lead people to think that waves had made things worse for the devastated countries. There had been a tsunami warning issued for Mediterranean coastal areas in neighboring countries. It was not an unreasonable fear. Soon, a 2018 video from Palu, Indonesia and a 2017 video from Durban, South Africa were circulating with false claims they were recent and from Turkey. The International Tsunami Center confirmed that very small (7 inch) waves had been recorded at the shores but did not cause damage.
Man-made disaster conspiracy
As mentioned above, the conspirasphere loves HAARP so much that it is the go-to excuse for any anomaly – a ridiculous and silly assertion. But maybe not as silly as the claim that the light flashes were from “space weapons” and that the quakes were a retaliation, somehow created by the US and other NATO countries, to punish Turkey for their political positions. It’s sad to have to say how unhinged these ideas are – there is no way to trigger a quake like this. Turkey is naturally very prone to earthquakes. There is no need to manufacture a quake when the extensive active faults do their destruction without any prompting.
What made the building destruction worse was related to humans. It was the years of wars in Syria and the lack of building code enforcement that allowed unstable masonry structures to be susceptible to collapse and, thus, resulting in the massive death toll. The first event, unfortunately, took place at night, when people were in buildings. It was cold, so people were less likely to be outside. And, the shallowness of the rupture meant that the surface waves were devastatingly destructive. It’s obscene to ignore the preventable or understandable characteristics of this event and to focus on imaginary villains and science fiction only to feed a view count or gain followers and attention.
Fake news is the norm
It is now a given than any disaster will be accompanied by social media videos that do not depict what they say they do. Old footage and images are recycled either on purpose or without thought. They are then viewed and shared without thought. A growing audience who applied no critical evaluation to the evidence now believes a falsehood about the event because the images feel so appropriate and add to the drama. Fact checking is left to others or ignored entirely. When the content is explained or debunked, the truth is not passed along to the same extent and it’s often rejected in favor of the more interesting fakery and lies.
I’ll update this post as needed to reflect additional claims or information. I would greatly appreciate submittals of reliable references for consideration. With this post, I am not discounting the potential that some truly remarkable and anomalous observations accompanied this event. But the evidence to support remarkable claims must be equally as impressive.