Hawai’i is where haole (outsiders) view as exotic or often go to as tourists, but the recent deadly wildfires have not only further underscored human vulnerability to environmental devastation, but also resulted in conspiracy theories online that could result in more violence to humanity.
Social media users have posted bizarre notions about the cause of the inferno on August 8 that killed 115 people in Lahaina, on the island of Maui, the second-largest in the archipelago of eight major islands of the 50th U.S. state. There are 110 missing persons reports filed with Maui police. Nearly 3,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed or damaged, and losses are estimated at $6 billion.
Meanwhile, the virtual conspiracy theories blame anything from a secret gang planning to ravage Maui in order to control it through AI (Artificial Intelligence) to tying Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey to the fires.
Image: Air Force MSgt. Andrew Jackson / Public Domain
What is the responsibility then of tech platforms, such as Meta, TikTok, Instagram or X (formerly Twitter), to stamp out the spread of such content that could only spur users to carry out lethal community violence, as what happened at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012; at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015; at a synagogue in Pittsburg in 2018; at a Walmart frequented by Latinos in El Paso in 2019; at Asian spa businesses in Atlanta in March 2021; at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo in 2022; and most recently, at a store in Jacksonville, Florida, among numerous other cases, when online hate went offline?
As an organization serving Asian and Native Hawai’ian and Pacific Islander populations, Monsoon grieves collectively for the lives lost in Maui, and urges American and international support for the survivors and rebuilding of the historic town of Lahaina. Conspiracy theories must not be allowed to thrive.