Rising Gas Prices Are Fueling Electric Vehicle Conspiracy Theories

WASHINGTON — Some social media users are suggesting that soaring U.S. fuel prices aren’t the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, increased consumption, or supply chain issues as daily life resumes after two years of stagnation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the flurry of posts on Facebook and Twitter offer, without proof, that a nefarious scheme is underway: President Joe Biden’s administration is intentionally driving up gas prices to bring more American drivers to the steering wheel of an electric car.

“$6.00 a gallon of gas is how you get people to buy electric cars,” claims a popular meme, shared thousands of times on Facebook and Instagram since Tuesday.

The most recent Internet fabrication shows that Americans’ obsession with conspiracy theories continues to play an outsized role in how they interpret political decision-making, even in times of war.

“At this point, conspiracy theories have become so ingrained in people’s psyches and because of social media, they have spread like wildfire,” said Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University, who has recently wrote a book examining the QAnon conspiracy theory. “If it’s not that conspiracy theory this week, it’ll be another next week.”

Conspiracy theory-laden memes, Twitter posts and videos began to swirl as the average price of regular gasoline topped $4 a gallon for the first time in nearly 14 years. Post production rose on Tuesday after Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, a move he said would almost certainly push up US gas prices further but would deal a “hard blow” to the government’s offensive. Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

Claims about electric vehicles echo central themes at the center of several conspiracy theories peddled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by followers of QAnon, a conspiracy theory that cast President Donald Trump as a hero fighting a cabal elites who operate child sex trafficking rings. Many QAnon social media accounts have been pushing false conspiracy theories that the government is trying to microchip people with a vaccine or that a coin shortage during the pandemic was a plot to push Americans into a cashless society that would be easier for the federal government to control.

The electric vehicle seems to be the latest reiteration of these conspiracy theories.

Some social media posts have suggested the government wants to push people to use electric vehicles so they can stop a driver’s car at will.

“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but high gas prices will push more people into electric cars which can be frozen, just like your bank account,” claims a fake message circulating on social media platforms. social media.

Contrary to this claim, electric vehicles operate the same way as gasoline-powered vehicles; the government cannot shut down individual vehicles at will. With electric cars, drivers can use public or private charging stations at home to recharge. In fact, 80% of electric vehicle charging is done from the driver’s home, according to the US Department of Energy.

These types of conspiracy theories are popular in times of crisis — like when a pandemic shuts down much of the world or during a war — because they give people an explanation for the unexplainable, Bloom said.

“Conspiracy theories provide such comfort in these very stressful times,” she said. “Having an explanation, even if it’s someone pulling the strings, is, for some reason, less nerve-wracking” for some people. “If there’s a plot behind it all – ‘OK, that makes sense. Now I get it.'”

Mentions of ‘electric cars’ and ‘government’ have risen 400% in the past four days on public social media accounts, news websites and TV news, according to analysis by the intelligence firm on social media Zignal Labs produced for the Associated Press.

The spike in conversation was also fueled by conservative social media accounts that seized on comments made Monday by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at an event with Vice President Kamala Harris. The couple promoted federal government funding for public transportation and electric vehicles as part of Biden’s infrastructure bill passed last year.

“Last month, we announced $5 billion to build a national electric vehicle charging network so that people in rural, suburban and urban communities can all benefit from the fuel savings of driving a vehicle. electric,” Buttigieg said.

But misleading social media posts took Buttigieg’s comments out of context, suggesting he was reacting directly to the recent spike in gas prices by telling people to buy electric vehicles. Some posts claimed Buttigieg’s response to rising gas prices was for Americans to buy a “$50,000 electric car.”

“Pete Buttigieg says if we don’t like gas prices we should switch vehicles,” one post, shared thousands of times on Facebook and Instagram, read.

Buttigieg, appearing to respond to the claims, shared a website link that lists electric car prices ranging from $27,400 to $181,450 on Twitter.

“See weird claims about EV pricing,” Buttigieg wrote in the tweet.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Hope Yen in Washington and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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