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FAKE NEWS: Europe, on the brink of a catastrophic power outage

FAKE NEWS: Europe, on the brink of a catastrophic power outage
©EPA-EFE/RAYNER PENA  |   A man uses his cell phone's flashlight to illuminate the entrance to his home, during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela, 13 June 2021.

“A major power outage, which could last up to two weeks, is imminent in the European Union”, according to part of the Romanian media, referring to an alleged warning from the Austrian defense minister. In fact, the Austrian army only considers the possibility of a power outage as part of its crisis prevention program and has launched an information campaign for the population that is not at all unusual”.

NEWS: “A power outage that could leave the entire continent in the dark for days on end is the European’s newest fear. The effects would be devastating. Because without electricity, everything related to the modern way of life collapses: there would be no water supply, no transport, no health-care, no heating, internet or television”. (Observator News)

“A major power outage is announced throughout Europe! A country has already warned its population about what’s going to happen and has asked for the help of the Army. Romania may not escape either, especially since the European energy system is integrated”.  (Capital)

“According to the national press, this is not the first time that the Austrian army has been right in its predictions. In 2017, officials were talking about a possible pandemic that would paralyze the world in the next decade, something that turned out to be true”. (ProTV.ro)

NARRATIVE: The EU is about to be faced with a major power outage.

CONTEXT / LOCAL ETHOS: Major power outages, affecting large regions, one or even more countries, are rare but do occur from time to time. In 2003, the north-east of the United States and the Canadian province of Ontario were hit by a blackout that lasted several hours and was caused by a software error, and the same year, tens of millions of Italians and Swiss had no electricity for hours. In 2015 Turkey was affected by a blackout, Venezuela went through several outages nationwide in 2019, and examples of similar situations are many.  

There are many things that can cause such power outages: software errors, network overload, accidents, natural phenomena that can damage high voltage cables, network wear and poor maintenance (indicated as a possible cause in Venezuela), sabotage ( used as an explanation also in Venezuela, but by the government), cyber-attacks, such as the one launched by the so-called Sandwork group on Ukraine  in 2016 etc.

In January 2020, the new Austrian Minister of Defense, Klaudia Tanner, presented the priorities of her term in office. One of them was to ensure the key infrastructure and prepare the armed forces for the situation in which the country would face a blackout. In late October, 2021, the topic started making headlines again, when the Austrian Ministry of Defense launched an information campaign, warning the population about potential major power outages, which would affect the operation of many basic services, and telling citizens what to do in such a situation.Information about the campaign has also reached Romania, usually from third party sources (for example via the website of the English-language Spanish publication EuroWeekly News, which quoted another Spanish publication, La Razon, which in turn mentioned a clip posted on YouTube by the Austrian Ministry of Defense ). Numerous publications have carried the idea - in the title or even in the content of their articles - that a massive power outage at European level is imminent and that it will last for days or even weeks. They say that the Austrian Minister of Defense has issued a warning in this regard, and some publications use the opportunity to criticize the Romanian authorities who, unlike the Austrian ones, are not preparing in any way for this crisis.

PURPOSE: To get high ratings (the clickbait method); to induce a state of unrest, and also dissatisfaction with the authorities who do not take measures to prevent an “imminent” disaster.

WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: Austria has not warned about an imminent or unavoidable power outage at EU level and has not predicted its scale or duration.  When the information campaign was launched, Klaudia Tanner only stated that the potential occurrence of a blackout must be “taken into consideration”.

Estimating threats to national security, anticipating potential crises and preparing for them is a matter of routine for many states, so that the various institutions, authorities and the population know how to react and what to do. Terrorism, possible pandemics, natural disasters, massive cyber-attacks, the collapse of strategic infrastructure, etc. are among the threats / risks that are usually taken into account and for which preparations are made - in Romania, for example, exercises are organized that simulate a major earthquake and there are campaigns in which the population is informed how to react should such a disaster occur. Prior to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, for example, the possibility of a pandemic was being considered by both scientists and governments, with some of the latter including it among the threats to security. The actual preparation for such a pandemic had not been carried out in many places, but today some countries have already taken measures – at EU level, for example - to reduce the impact of a similar crisis in the future.

GRAIN OF TRUTH:  A campaign has been launched in Austria to raise public awareness of the risk of a major power outage and what should be done if this happens, and the Austrian Ministry of Defense has included preparations for a potential major power outage in its crisis prevention program.

Tags: Energy

  • Publication / Media:
    DCnews, capital.ro, ProTV.ro, romaniatv.net, observatornews.ro
  • Date of publication:
    29/10/2021
  • Amplification:
    Social media, online and audio-visual media
  • Key narrative:
    Europe is one the brink of a catastrophic blackout, two weeks blackout
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