How a story about NATO spraying Poland with chemtrails spread on social media
On January 11, an article spread on Facebook in Poland, which accused NATO of spraying Poland with chemtrails. The chemtrail conspiracy theory dates back to the late 1990s and refers to the supposedly nefarious motives behind the trails of condensation left by flying planes.
Scientifically, when an airplane flies, it leaves a contrail, a trail of condensation, produced by the humid exhaust from the jet engines that mixes with the atmosphere at high altitude. The contrails may vary in thickness, extent, and duration, all of which depend on plane’s altitude, temperature, and humidity.
According to those who proscribe to the chemtrail conspiracy theory, condensation trails actually consist of harmful chemicals and are intentionally spread. Chemtrail conspiracy theorists have different understandings of what those chemicals might do, with most arguing they have brain or weather control effects. None of the variants of the theory has ever put forward any credible evidence to support the claim and the conspiracy theory has been de-bunked on a number of occasions.
The article, which accused NATO planes of spraying chemtrails, was posted on Wiadomosci.RobertBrzoza.pl and began with the author describing a letter he allegedly received from Poland’s Ministry of Defence. The ministry’s representative allegedly said that the unspecified planes do not fall under Polish command. The author concluded the “plot” of spraying Poland with chemicals is conducted under NATO’s flag.
The article continued the chemtrails that NATO planes were spraying contain a high level of aluminum. He asked why the politicians were silent about it and promptly answered his own question, “because when they hear the word NATO, they close their mouths.”
The author added that the planes spraying chemtrails are “flying in from Germany, among other [countries].”
In the section “Why do they spray chemicals”, the author argues it’s to “protect from climate change,” which according to him is a “natural process”. The post concluded with a gallery of several pictures of condensation from planes, “sent in by conscious readers.”
Overall, the article presented no hard evidence to support any of its claims.
About the author
The author of the article is a Polish-American conspiracy theorist Robert Brzoza, who describes himself as a businessman. He runs a blog called Wiadomosci.RobertBrzoza.pl, where the chemtrail article first appeared. Broza’s body of work reveals anti-Semitic and anti-Western views.
He’s written articles titled: “Antipolonism: you won’t be able to listen how Jews lie about Poles”, “Jews have overtaken Texas”, “The US is a milking cow for the Jews”, and “Israel is a terrorist, satanic state”.
His anti-Western views are evidenced by such statements as “the US organized the Maidan protests”, “Maidan was organized by the West to take over resources and weaken the BRICS countries”, “Only Russia and China stand in the way between the present and the New World Order”. For reference, “New World Order” is another conspiracy theory about a secret elite plot to dominate the world.
Although his views on the Kremlin and its role in the Ukrainian conflict are not straightforward, he did agree with a Polish commentator who argued it wasn’t the pro-Russian separatists who shot down the MH17 and accused the media of spreading disinformation about Russia. Additionally, his website does contain a section dedicated to Russia and Putin, with most articles exhibiting a pro-Kremlin sentiment.
The chemtrail article quickly spread across the web, with three other conspiracy outlets reposting the same story on their sites verbatim, namely: wolnemedia.net, kochanezdrowie.blogspot.com, and alternews.pl.
The story was shared more than 8,000 times, mostly on Facebook.
8,000 shares might not seem a lot, but assuming each user who shared the article had at least ten friends, the article could easily generate over 80,000 impressions.
Moreover, @DFRLab conducted initial sentiment analysis of the most popular or highly engaged posts on Facebook that linked to the article and found that the people who engaged appear to believe the basic theory the article presented.
Of 912 reactions to this Facebook post, 441 are angry and 46 are surprised.
Top commentators appeared genuinely concerned.
Not the first time
This is not the first time this story circulated on the web. Articles that report NATO spray Poland with chemtrails can be traced as far back as 2010, when a conspiracy site named Orgon-Polska.pl reported chemtrails in Poland appeared at the same time as country’s accession to NATO. The insinuation that NATO planes were spraying chemtrails was similarly presented without evidence.
The same observation was made in another conspiracy site in December 2010.
The theory was elaborated further in 2016, when Gloria.tv published an article titled “NATO — a provocateur of a permanent war. Poland under the occupation of foreign troops”. The article suggested that NATO used chemtrails to control the brains of Poles in order to make them more obedient and receptive to the occupation of NATO troops.
Although the story is still online, its shelf-life expired for now. However, the same story will, likely, re-appear again. Despite the relatively low engagement, this remains an excellent case study of how a network of conspiracy websites and susceptible Facebook users can sow fear and confusion about an international organization tasked with protecting the very same people that now fear it.
The cast study also wider implications for the future of NATO-related disinformation. @DFRLab noticed that normally, anti-NATO articles in Polish language generate low user engagement rates on social media with less than 50 shares. The fact that this conspiracy theory got 14 times that suggests that the nature of anti-NATO disinformation might pivot from biased reporting to conspiracy theories in order to generate higher engagement rates.
Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
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