Fake news of the week: The Berlin power cut
On January 9, Berlin experienced a significant power cut. Soon afterwards, misinformation spread online about its cause
Each week, in a partnership with Exberliner CORRECTIV will bring some piece of fake news that has been circulating online – and the corresponding fact check.
For our first, we have some online misinformation about the power outage which hit on January 9 in East Berlin.
So what happened? It is true that a massive power cut left around 50,000 houses without electricity and hot water for 16 hours, starting on Sunday Jan 9, lasting through the night and into Monday – while temperatures outside were just 3 degrees.
However, shortly after news of this power outage spread, misinformation began to spread online, much of it seeking to blame the outages on a single cause: the closure of Germany’s nuclear power plants and the move towards green energy.
Take this indicative tweet from “Frank L” which reads:
“Power outages are increasing in Germany … the beginning of a completely wrong energy policy. Which party understands this?”
The reference point for these remarks is the closure of three nuclear power plants which were taken offline on New Year’s Eve, representing half of Germany’s nuclear energy production. The inference drawn by much of the online misinformation is that a move towards green energy and the closing of nuclear power plants is likely to cause chaos across Germany’s power grid.
However, according to Correctiv’s investigations, in none of the power outages, either on January 9 or in other power outages around that time (in Hamburg on January 7, or the Hochtaunuskreis on January 8) did the lack of electricity play a role. All of the power cuts were due either to bad weather conditions or technical problems like outdated equipment.
But this hasn’t stopped the fake news spreading. On January 9, Steffan Kotré, member of the Bundestag for the AfD, wrote that we should fear an “increase in such incidents”, again implying the cause was the planned transition to green energy. He did not provide any evidence for this.
Despite the noise online, there is no sign that a green energy transition will lead to more blackouts, and the number of power faults has fallen in the period from 2006 to 2020.
In other fake news this week: we’re sorry to report that no, Bill Gates and Boris Johnson will not be charged at the International Criminal Court. Fingers crossed for next time.