Following a car crash in Long Beach, California, where a driver ran a red light and struck pedestrians in a crosswalk, killing one person, false rumors of a terrorist attack began circulating on social media. Despite police clarifying that the incident was not terrorism-related, conspiracy theorists, right-wing extremists, and others continued to spread misinformation online. The crash occurred on October 14, and the driver, Khalid Yagobbi, was subsequently charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
Yagobbi, who was working as an Uber driver at the time, allegedly drove his Chevrolet Bolt the wrong way on Shoreline Drive, disregarded a red light, and collided with pedestrians and multiple occupied vehicles. The crash resulted in the death of Romelia Cuarenta-Aguilar, 60, and left others injured. Yagobbi pleaded not guilty to the initial charge of vehicular manslaughter.
However, an amended complaint has since charged Yagobbi with murder, as well as four felony counts each of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He was arrested again on Wednesday and is currently held on $6-million bail. The Long Beach Police Department has emphasized that there is no evidence linking the crash to terrorism.
Despite multiple denials from law enforcement and federal authorities, the false narrative of a terrorist attack continued to spread on social media. Experts attribute the proliferation of disinformation during times of conflict or war to heightened emotions and the tendency of individuals to share unverified information that aligns with their beliefs.
Disinformation not only creates confusion and anxiety but also undermines public safety efforts, erodes trust in institutions, and can incite panic or violence. Social media platforms, due to their unfiltered nature, often become breeding grounds for the spread of false information. Experts highlight the need for time to establish the truth amidst the flood of disinformation.
The prevalence of disinformation varies across different social media platforms, influenced by user demographics, algorithms, and features. Verified users, who may amplify false information or incite violence, can lend a veneer of credibility to such content. Disinformation is pervasive and poses challenges in maintaining a well-informed citizenry.