East Palestine, Ohio train derailment creates perfect TikTok storm

1 year ago
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“This is kind of a pivotal event for the spread of conspiracy theories and various anti-government and anti-media sentiment,” says Megan Conroy, an American fellow at the Atlantic Council, a foreign affairs think tank who has monitored social media coverage. crash. “There is a lack of clarity about what is happening on the ground in Ohio.”

While the EPA monitoring air and water quality in East Palestine, some of the long-term health and environmental effects of chemical burns and spills are still unknown. (In fact, it wasn’t until Sunday – nine days after the crash – that the EPA released a full list of the chemicals on board the train operated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.) The investigation is ongoing, and the results aren’t immediate. accessible. According to Conroy, the situation has created what is called a data void. Dissatisfied with the media and government responses, people are looking elsewhere for answers, and some are stepping in to fill in the gaps.

Typically, political right-wingers are skeptical of media and governments that promote such conspiracy theories, but the train wreck is unique in that it won over both sides. “What we’re seeing here is that people across the ideological spectrum are speculating about why we’re not getting a lot of information,” Conroy says.

People insist on turning off the media. Some, including the US representative Ilhan OmarDemocrat from Minnesota took to social media to criticize national news for not covering the disaster despite several stories from V The newspaper “New York Times, CNNAnd NPR all derailment reports immediately thereafter.

Then there is the decision to burn one of the chemicals…vinyl chloridecarcinogen – to avoid an explosion that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine described as one of the “two bad choices”. The science of chemical burns is foreign and alarming to many. But experts say the outraged backlash has gone too far. Several government agencies have informed that they did not detect dangerous levels of chemicals in the air and water, but doubts continue to circulate on social media.

“Some social media posts are inaccurate or at least exaggerated,” says Daniel Westervelt, a research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who specializes in ocean and climate physics. Chernobyl disaster. After reviewing Dromboski’s viral video, Westervelt said much about the crash remains unknown and offered to take “some of the claims with a grain of salt” when asked if the information presented was correct.

“It was a controlled burn that was carefully timed to coincide with ideal meteorological conditions to maximize ventilation of gases and thereby minimize health risks,” Westervelt says in response to the confusion about burning chemicals, including vinyl chloride. “While this course of action is not perfect, it may have been the best option available and there is no silver bullet.”

Sonya Lunder, senior policy adviser on toxics, found the information in Drombosky’s viral video to be a credible scientific explanation. (Dromboski himself noted that the content is now outdated and encouraged people to share more recent updates.) But other content, Lunder says, is raising concerns, exaggerating the potential exposure to chemicals. “There’s a tension between drawing people’s attention to an issue and telling them that it might affect them, and in this case it’s not as accurate,” says Lunder. “It sort of takes attention away from places where these pollution hazards are bad.”

Drombosky says he already had about 80,000 followers on TikTok before he started filming the crash video and he knew how to make a compelling video. He is frustrated with the way mainstream news outlets have covered the event and believes that the same criticisms of bias and lack of expert authority that haunt the creators of TikTok also haunt the mainstream media. Its coverage is opinionated and places the blame on the train operator, Norfolk Southern Railway. “TikTok will be crazy. But have you seen Newsmax? Have you seen Fox? It’s so crazy that people are jumping so fast, well, TikTok can be a little problematic.”

East Palestine is facing uncertainty in the wake of the chemical disaster, and it’s unclear how long the small Ohio town can hold TikTok’s attention. But TikTok’s ability to dictate top stories is now undeniable.

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