Less than a week ago, a young boy froze to death due to the cold spell that has paralysed much of Texas. So far, there is no official death toll from what people call the “Texas freeze” but according to the Washington Post at least 30 people have died. Yet, against all evidence, many TikTok users believe that the snow in Texas is fake—and are set on proving it.
According to TikTokers, the snow itself—or, more specifically, the fact that if you pick up a big chunk of snow and take a lighter to it, the glob won’t melt right away—proves that it is fake snow created as part of a deep state plot to produce a massive snowstorm. Instead, you might see black charring on the side which, the conspiracy theorists say, is clearly evidence of a metallic snow substitute dropped on Texas to convince people climate change is real.
While some videos posted on the app seem ironic, a fair share of them are dead serious. They truly believe that the snowstorm is a psychological operation engineered by some combination of Bill Gates, the shadowy deep state, and Joe Biden to make imbeciles like Ted Cruz look bad for vacationing in Cancun and relying on Texas’ deregulated energy grid.
In a video that has since then been deleted, one user picks up a snowball, holds a candle flame to it, and drops a big ‘gotcha’ when the snow doesn’t melt away and leaves a black mark. In another one, a woman insists that the snow is fake because it doesn’t melt over a lighter in her kitchen. Instead, she says, Gates and the government have simply tried to convince the masses the snow in Texas is real. “Thank you, Bill Gates, for trying to fucking trick us that this is real snow,” she says.
Another woman encourages TikTok users in other states to burn snow too and compare it to the snow burnt in Texas since, she says, it might be a targeted effort by Biden to retaliate against states that didn’t vote for him.
You get the idea, and can easily find more of these scrolling through TikTok’s #FakeSnow, which currently has more than 31 million views. So, is it true? Is the US government really lying to its citizens? Well, first of all, yes it most definitely is lying to them, but no, not about the current Texas freeze—the horrifying winter storm and utilities crisis are very much real, sadly.
Why is the snow turning black then? According to USA Today, the charring is due to sublimation, which is the process of solid transferring directly to gas, rather than melting into liquid, as it might when snow gradually erodes as the weather gets warmer. Those black spots are soot, which forms because snow only allows for incomplete combustion, Doctor Tandy Grubbs, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Stetson University, further told USA Today.
Obviously, that’s slightly less exciting than the new conspiracy theory TikTokers are currently spreading. No Microsoft-deep state-Biden alliance for you, sorry…
Do you remember Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that resulted in Frazzledrip and QAnon? It went viral during the 2016 US presidential campaign, when rightwing news outlets and influencers promoted the idea that a pizza restaurant located in Washington DC (mentioned in stolen emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta) was actually a secret code for a child trafficking ring.
If you do remember it, then you’re probably not one of the many TikTokers who have now decided to tweak Pizzagate’s background story in order to match it better to the popular culture they grew up with. Although the conspiracy theory pretty much died on the day it influenced a man to drive, armed, to the pizza restaurant and ‘rescue the children’, only to realise that nothing dodgy was going on there and get arrested, Pizzagate is “catching on again with younger people on TikTok and other online hangouts,” as The New York Times reported. Why exactly is that?
In the years after the pizzeria incident (and shooting), Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all managed to largely suppress Pizzagate—at least, as well as they could. But in July 2020, just months before the next presidential election, the conspiracy theory started making a comeback on these platforms, along with new ones such as TikTok.
This time, the conspiracy theory’s revival is being fueled by a younger generation that is active on TikTok, Instagram, as well as on other social media platforms. According to The New York Times, “The conspiracy group QAnon is also promoting Pizzagate in private Facebook groups and creating easy-to-share memes on it.” Due to the nature and novelty of these platforms, the theory has now been morphed.
Gen Zers don’t actually care about Hillary Clinton, and instead are now targeting powerful businesspeople, politicians and celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Chrissy Teigen. Additionally, the theory has also gone global, when it initially took place in the US mainly. Now, videos and posts about it have racked up millions of views in Italy, Brazil and Turkey.
According to The New York Times, in July 2020, TikTok posts using the #Pizzagate hashtag had been viewed more than 82 million times. If you try looking up the hashtag today, you’ll see that the app has since then banned it. Meanwhile, Google searches for Pizzagate have skyrocketed. After scrolling down to see Google’s related topics, keywords such as “Ellen DeGeneres – American comedian” and “Chrissy Teigen – American model” come up.
In the first week of June 2020, comments, likes and shares of Pizzagate also spiked to more than 800,000 on Facebook and nearly 600,000 on Instagram, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool for analysing social interactions. That compares with 512,000 interactions on Facebook and 93,000 on Instagram during the first week of December 2016.
Gen Zers, many of whom are just forming political beliefs, are particularly susceptible to Pizzagate—they are drawn to celebrity photos on tabloids and platforms where users are supposedly analysing secret symbols and clues. Even a triangle, which can signify a slice of pizza, can be taken as proof that a celebrity is part of a secret elite cabal.
In Bieber’s case, many believe that he has been a victim of the child-trafficking ring known as Pizzagate. Four minutes into a video that was posted on Instagram in May 2020, Bieber leaned into the camera and adjusted the front of his black knit beanie. For some of his 130 million followers, it was a signal.
In the video’s comments, someone had asked Bieber to touch his hat if he had been a victim of Pizzagate. Thousands of comments were flooding in, and there was no evidence that the singer had seen that message. But soon enough, the pop star slightly touched his beanie, setting off a flurry of online activity, which highlighted the resurgence of one of social media’s early conspiracy theories.
By tweaking the original theory behind Pizzagate, younger people on TikTok have managed to make the initial conspiracy theory more relatable for them. Although social media giants have become better at stopping false conspiracies like this one, it has also become clear that people who want to spread conspiracies are figuring out workarounds.
Meanwhile, tech companies’ algorithms keep on sucking people further into these false ideas, and TikTok is not proactively moderating its content either—only removing content after journalists reach and point it out. After all, as professor of psychiatry Joe Pierre, MD previously wrote for Screen Shot, “So long as we come to hold beliefs based on intuition, subjective experience, and faith in trusted sources of transmitted information, independent of veracity, conspiracy theories will continue to flourish.”