When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced last week that a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) would take place on Wednesday at 2:20pm EST, it set off a wave of panic and conspiracy theories online. Claims quickly spread across social media that the alert was a precursor to catastrophe, with some even asserting it would trigger a zombie apocalypse.
Some viral content claimed that the combination of 5G networks, COVID-19 vaccines, and the EAS tone would react to turn vaccinated people into zombies. Though clearly implausible, the tweet picked up steam rapidly, amplified by meme pages and conspiracy groups. Some users reacted with amusement, creating art and videos portraying a zombie invasion after the test.
These are some top narratives around the Emergency Alert System:
- 5G, the vaccine, and zombies: Users share the belief that 5G and the EAS alert will somehow react with those who received the COVID-19 vaccine and cause adverse effects, including zombification.
- Government overstepping: Users believe the U.S. government is using this alert to cover up some grander conspiracy and initiate a fake state of emergency later to gain power over the country.
- International overlap: The timely overlapping between Russia, the U.S., and India's testing of their respective EAS systems has led to concerns of imminent nuclear war or international collusion.
Beyond the outlandish zombie claims, additional skepticism surrounds the test’s necessity, with arguments that few events genuinely require a nationwide alert system. Critics point to FEMA’s lack of an EAS warning for Hawaii during the recent wildfires as evidence that most emergencies are localized, not national.
Fueling skepticism further is the convenient overlap with Russia’s own EAS drills focused on nuclear emergencies. India also conducted similar EAS tests recently. This apparent coordination between the U.S., Russia, and India has led some to suspect preparation for imminent nuclear war or government conspiracy.
Occasional testing helps ensure critical emergency systems function properly when truly needed. Hawaii’s alerts are managed by state authorities, not FEMA’s national system, explaining the lack of EAS warning there. And while the timing between nations testing EAS may seem suspicious to some, international communication about such system maintenance helps avoid potentially dangerous confusion.
The spread of narratives ahead of the alert test highlights the need for caution and critical thinking when interpreting events. As communication technology progresses, we must advocate truth over fiction, facts over alarmism. While the web provides a platform for creativity, it also enables the rapid spread of narratives. Moving forward, maintaining perspective and skepticism will prove essential.
Blackbird.AI helps organizations detect and respond to threats that cause reputational and financial harm. Powered by their AI-Driven Narrative & Risk Intelligence Constellation Platform, organizations can proactively understand risks and threats to their reputation in real-time. Blackbird.AI was founded by a team of experts from artificial intelligence, and national security, with a mission to defend authenticity and fight narrative manipulation. Recognized by Forrester as a "Top Threat Intelligence Company," Blackbird.AI's technology is used by many of the world's largest organizations for strategic decision making
BALANCING THE COMPLEXITIES OF ONLINE DISCOURSE
While all these recommendations seem to be sound, the likelihood that these measures can be agreed upon and implemented are becoming increasingly less likely in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, we have been moving in the opposite direction. Platforms have begun to roll back access for research communities, decrease moderation around misinformation, or strike down moderation altogether in the name of freedom of expression. The very notion of banning a popular platform in the U.S. would have seemed unthinkable a few short years ago, with organizations like the ACLU strongly voicing that a ban on TikTok would violate the First Amendment.