One of the earliest Twitter accounts to circulate false online rumors that the wildfires in Oregon had been started by activists was one that began as a parody, according to research by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
The account, called @ScarsdaleAntifa and purporting to represent an anti-fascist group from Scarsdale, N.Y., was started in 2017 by a user of the message board 4chan and tried to “troll or confuse” antifa supporters, according to the lab, which investigates misinformation.
The account staged and promoted a fake protest in 2017, using images from other protests. But this month, the account started deleting all of its previous posts. Once its history of trolling was erased, it posted a new claim: that members of its group had set wildfires to raise awareness about climate change.
The message was amplified by other inauthentic accounts and shared hundreds of times, the researchers found. Although Twitter appeared to suspend the account on Sept. 12, screenshots of its claims continued to be shared in conservative Facebook groups. Claims that anti-fascist groups had started the wildfires were also shared by Paul J. Romero, a former Republican candidate for Senate in Oregon, and boosted by followers of the conspiracy theory Qanon.
There is no evidence that antifa has played a role in starting the fires.
The rumors overwhelmed local law enforcement agencies, leading them to plead with the public to verify information before sharing it. Some residents defied evacuation orders because of the misinformation.