FACT CHECK: Was There A Communications Blackout In DC During George Floyd Protests On June 1?

Elias Atienza | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims the U.S. government cut off communications in Washington, D.C., during George Floyd protests in the early hours of June 1.

Verdict: False

There is no evidence of a communications blackout in D.C. during the early morning hours of June 1. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department said the claim “appears to be misinformation.”

Fact Check: 

Protests and riots have erupted in D.C. and other major U.S. cities following the death of Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes, according to USA Today.

The image, which appears to be a screen grab from the Twitter account associated with the hacker group Anonymous, claims that the nation’s capital experienced a communications blackout in the early hours of June 1, saying, “The US government cut all communications in D.C. from 1AM to 6AM the fate of the protestors or events during this period is currently unknown.”

There is, however, no evidence that a communications blackout occurred, and the hashtag “#DCblackout” appears to be a viral hoax that spread on Twitter. (RELATED: Does This Video Show Protesters Breaking Into The White House?)

NetBlocks, a non-governmental organization that monitors cyber security and internet governance, said that there was “no indication of a mass-scale internet disruption.”

“Real-time network data from Washington, DC show no indication of a mass-scale internet disruption overnight or through the last 48 hours,” the tweet reads. “Observable fixed-line and cellular connectivity remain stable at the present time. We continue monitoring.”

“This doesn’t rule out cell tower jamming of the kind one might see around Capitol buildings in the onset of a national security incident,” Alps Toker, executive director of NetBlocks, told the Daily Caller in an email. “Such restrictions would fade out as you walk away over the range of a few hundred meters and get reconnected. To be fair, we didn’t see descriptions clearly matching a jamming scenario either but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”

Spokespeople for Verizon and AT&T confirmed their phone networks operated normally that night, according to local CBS affiliate WUSA.

Alaina Gertz, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department, told the Caller in an email, “This appears to be misinformation. We have no confirmation of a cell phone blackout.”

Yahoo News reporter Hunter Walker and CBS News reporter Christina Ruffini, among others, also pushed back on the claim. (RELATED: Donald Trump Claims DC Mayor ‘Wouldn’t Let The DC Police Get Involved’ With May 29 White House Protest)

“Stop retweeting #dcblackout. None of this is true,” Ruffini tweeted. “Eventually, even TV crews need to sleep, but ours and many others were out late into the night. Their phones worked. Live signal was strong. Many of these tweets are the same wording. Don’t fall for whatever is happening here.”

“I didn’t experience anything like that and – though I didn’t try streaming – had no issue with phone as I tweeted and worked until 2:30 am at least,” Walker said on Twitter.

The account associated with Anonymous later tweeted that it suspected that a botnet spread the hashtag “#DCblackout.”

“We are investigating #DCblackout. We suspect it is misinformation spread by a botnet using BLM IDs and KPop / Anime profiles in order to incite panic and confusion,” the account tweeted.

Bloomberg reported that a Twitter spokesperson said the platform suspended hundreds of accounts perpetuating the baseless claim about a communications failure during D.C. protests. The move was part of an active investigation into the “#DCblackout” hashtag, the spokesperson told Bloomberg.

The hashtag originated with a Twitter account that had only three followers, according to the Washington Post.

Elias Atienza

Fact Check Reporter
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