NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A conspiracy theory involving the Christmas morning bombing in Nashville began circulating hours it happened.
It claimed the explosion was caused by a missile attack.
The theory spread on social media despite all the evidence that the bomb came from an RV.
There were pictures of the RV driving down Second Avenue.
And police body camera video showed the RV parked and issuing a warning prior to the explosion.
NewsChannel 5 is partnering with the News Literacy Project — a nonpartisan, educational nonprofit formed to help people spot misinformation in the media.
"The Nashville bombing kind of fed the conspiratorial minded," said John Silva with the News Literacy Project.
He has studied the rise of conspiratorial thinking and said several groups tried to use the Nashville bombing to advance their views of the world.
"When this bombing happens outside an AT&T building, people in these conspiracy circles, they latch onto this," Silva said.
One post declared "The War has begun," and claimed the target was AT&T which helped "spy" on Americans.
There was a grainy black and white video claiming to show "an incoming missile trail immediately before explosion."
Multiple social media accounts asserted "The attack had to be from the U.S. government, Russia, or China."
NewsChannel 5's Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams was surprised so many people seemed to believe a missile was fired into downtown.
"I was curious about where are they getting this stuff?" Williams said. "There are so many sources of evidence in this case and people wanted to believe a one second clip of video."
He started looking at the actual video of the bombing.
"There's the RV right there," Williams said looking at video on his computer screen.
He quickly saw what some claimed was a missile trail, was actually debris blown into the air by the bomb.
"The explosion occurs and what people thought was a missile was debris raining down from the sky," Williams said. "It requires some extreme gymnastics to believe the lie in this case."
But sadly, many people circulated the lie online.
Williams wrote a report debunking the conspiracy theory, so did Reuters and other major media outlets.
Many media outlets used to ignore baseless conspiracy theories, trying not to dignify them with publicity.
"It has always been our role to defend the truth, but it has become much more critical these days because there is so much untruth out there," Williams said.
Silva said the missile posts are an example of a conspiracy pushed by those wanting to advance certain beliefs — while ignoring obvious evidence.
"They have a conclusion, and they are searching for evidence for it, which is the opposite of critical thinking," Silva said.
While some fake posts seek to persuade people, others just want attention.
NewsChannel 5 has seen evidence of that in our tornado coverage.
"We've had people submit photos to us of a completely different tornado, from a different area, not even our area," Williams said.
Williams said if he received this picture of a tornado, he would do something we can all do — a reverse image search — to see if it has been used before online.
"I'll find out here, this image has been used in multiple places — apparently also in China, so this would not be an image from this area," Williams said.
Amid the flood of misinformation — the truth matters more than ever — and we all have a role to play.
"We all need to be investigative journalists. We all need to investigate the initial story we believe may be true," Williams said.