How Misinformation and Disinformation Muddied Discourse in the Aftermath of the Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform identified five main narratives in the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, providing additional insight into the anatomy of conspiratorial narratives around domestic tragedies.

Posted by Emily Kohlman, Sarah Boutboul, and Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team on April 14, 2024

In the early hours of March 26, 2024, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, collapsed after being struck by a cargo ship. Conspiratorial narratives began to emerge immediately and circulate widely on social media platforms. 

Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team used our Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform and Compass by Blackbird.AI – our context-checker – to identify and analyze five key narratives surrounding the event. These narratives highlight the immense influence of the internet in exploiting speculation and shaping public opinion amid fatal tragedies, underscoring the critical need to proactively combat misinformation and disinformation in our increasingly interconnected digital landscape.


In the days following the bridge collapse, a significant narrative gained momentum, mentioning the “black swan” or “black swan event” more than 4,000 times. This metaphor describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Within this narrative were those with large social media followings, such as online influencers, whose posts received 19.5 million views. Other users with large followings, including a US Representative, questioned whether the bridge collapse was an “intentional” attack. Users amplified this narrative by suggesting the bridge collapse was a cyber attack on US critical infrastructure, deliberately steering the ship towards the bridge supports. Interestingly, a well-known ecosystem of pro-Russian influencers also leveraged this narrative to instill fear, arguing that the so-called attack had triggered an imminent World War III. 

This Blackbird.AI Constellation network graph shows hyper-agenda-driven activity in the narrative that the collapse was a “black swan” event. Major influencers amplified their narratives from a highly synergistic audience of users of the same ideology and successfully reached a wider public.


The second-largest narrative in total post volume emerged immediately after the collapse, with users claiming that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices encouraged hiring “unskilled” personnel in the public and private sectors, thus causing the bridge collapse. A former Florida House member posted “DEI did this” alongside a video of the bridge collapse on March 26, garnering 3.9 million views and more than 5,000 responses, some of which provided additional “evidence” in the form of screenshots of MV Dali cargo ship operator Synergy Marine Group’s promotion of DEI on its official website. This narrative postulated that “anti-white business practices” caused the bridge collapse. At the same time, some also led racist attacks against the Baltimore Mayor, making references to his skin color and appearance. The term “DEI” – including a counter-narrative composed of users who explained that others were using it as a substitute for racial epithets – appeared in more than 25,000 posts in connection with posts mentioning the bridge collapse. 

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.


Social media users discussed alleged similarities between the bridge collapse and scenes from Leave the World Behind thriller. A media account aligned with the Russian state suggested that the MV Dali cargo ship might have been hacked because it appeared to lose power before colliding with the bridge, adding that it was similar to a scene from the movie. One narrative noted that Barack and Michelle Obama were executive producers for the movie and implied that the former US President and First Lady were tangentially responsible for the collapse.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.


Online discourse in the aftermath of the bridge collapse included criticism of US President Biden, suggesting his administration was responsible for the tragedy. Some users claimed that military aid sent to Ukraine took away from infrastructure funding that would have prevented the bridge from collapsing, with some even circulating false allegations that Biden cut the funding of those who oversee the port where the bridge collapsed. To bolster this argument, one narrative cited other large-scale infrastructure incidents during Biden’s tenure, including the Ohio train derailment – more than a year after the event. Another narrative was critical of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. This narrative implied that President Biden caused the collapse by appointing Buttigieg, allegedly prioritizing “woke” values by choosing the former mayor for his sexual orientation rather than someone genuinely committed to improving the country’s infrastructures. This specific line of conversation overlaps with the second narrative, blaming DEI practices for the bridge collapse. Bot-like authors comprised more than 18% of the posts, suggesting an attempt to amplify this narrative inorganically.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.


A fifth narrative emerged around a circulating video of the October 2022 explosion on the Kerch Strait Bridge between Crimea and Russia, passing it off as an “alternate angle” of the Baltimore bridge collapse. Posting within just a few hours of the collapse, this narrative received 1.5 million views. One narrative indicated to their followers that this video did not depict the bridge collapse in Baltimore and called it disinformation. A counter-narrative pleaded that others stop interacting with the video, saying any engagement pushes it higher in the algorithm and keeps misleading footage in circulation.

This Blackbird.AI Constellation Platform network graph shows interactions between narratives alleging that the collapse is a deliberate attack on US infrastructures (in blue), that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices and the Biden Administration are responsible for the collapse (in yellow and pink respectively). The overlap in color indicates that the same narratives were likely to simultaneously circulate and amplify conspiracy theories related to the bridge collapse from different perspectives. 


Diving into narratives surrounding the Baltimore bridge collapse shows how new and different narratives can leverage ongoing events and tragedies to amplify long-standing damaging narratives about individuals, institutions, and organizations and create further partisan divides over societal issues. Although the bridge collapse was recent, rhetoric aimed at undermining public trust in government infrastructure funding, Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) practices, or shaping perceptions that the US is entering a new world war is nothing new.

Speculation breeds mis/disinformation, making it more difficult to identify the truth by manipulating perceptions about individuals, organizations, and events. It can quickly spread online with long-term disruptions and financial and reputational damage for all industries. Gaining visibility into these harmful narratives is critical to understanding them and providing a sophisticated and proactive response. This is where we can help. Blackbird.AI protects organizations from narrative threats that emerge and continuously develop while reinforcing critical thinking with an essential contextual layer against the flood of fabricated conspiracy theories that seek to become a reality. 

Several narratives claimed the collapse was a “black swan” event, referring to an unexpected negative event with catastrophic consequences. These unpredictable tragedies can afflict any organization at any time, and the emerging conspiratorial narratives tend to last longer than the event itself. Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform can identify and analyze narratives as they transpire, and Compass by Blackbird.AI can provide helpful context as these narratives threaten the pursuit of factual information.

‍To learn more about how Blackbird.AI can help you in these situations, contact us here.

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BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.

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