Flurry of misinformation about electric cars targets Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan

Photos and videos containing false information about electric cars have been circulating online in the United States.
Photos and videos containing false information about electric cars have been circulating online in the United States. © Observers

There’s been a wave of photos and videos posted on US social media over the past few weeks that contain false information about the environmental impact of electric cars. This disinformation campaign is a response to "Build Back Better", US president Joe Biden’s wide-scale plan for infrastucture, welfare and environmental reform. The plan, which includes financial incentives for people to buy electric cars, was adopted by the House of Representatives on November 19.


Two photos claim to show charging stations attached to generators

On November 24, a Facebook group that regularly posts pro-military and anti-Democrat content shared a photo of some charging stations for electric cars. The caption claimed that these stations are actually powered by the very environmentally unfriendly practice of burning coal. 

“Coal-powered electric cars… helping liberals pretend they are solving a make-believe crisis,” reads text edited onto the photo. 

This photo has actually been circulating on Facebook since September. A post from October 3 featuring this photo was shared more than 17,000 times.  

Our team ran this photo through a reverse image search using InVID We Verify (click here to find out how) and located the original photo, which was published in the American magazine Wired

The original caption to the photo says that the image shows a charging station in a parking lot outside of the offices of General Electric in Niskayuna, New York, back in 2014. 

The article explains that the photo shows a charging station for electric cars that uses artificial intelligence. 

However, only a small percentage of the electricity consumed in New York is coal-generated, according to data published by the US Energy Information Administration in August 2021. Natural gas is the main source of the state’s electricity. 

An estimated 92% of electricity consumed in New York state in 2019 came from natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric sources, according to an article in the New York Times published in October 2020 that cites data from the US Energy Information Administration. 

Though the exact percentage isn’t clear from the graphic in the article, the amount of coal used to generate electricity in New York is minimal. The percentage of coal was also minimal in 2014, the year the photo was taken, according to the infographic. 

New York state doesn’t have any coal mines or any coal reserves, according to this article published by the US Energy Information Administration in October 2021. Furthermore, coal deliveries to New York's electrical sector were terminated in 2019.

On November 15, a second photo in this vein was posted by a Facebook account that regularly shares photos of cars. The caption on this photo claims that it shows a charging station powered by a diesel generator. 

Our team ran this photo through a reverse image search using the online tool TinEye. That led us to a discussion thread on Reddit about this photo from November 11, 2021.

In the discussion thread, one person mentioned that this charging station is near the airport in El Paso, Texas. 

In the photo, you can see that the charging station is run by the American company Blink. We had a look on the company’s website, which provides information about the location of its charging stations. From there, we were able to confirm that the photo does actually show a Blink charging station in El Paso airport in Texas.  

“Please note these chargers are not run off the diesel generator near the units. That generator is used as back up power for the building,” reads a statement on the site. 

A journalist from the French fact-checking outlet AFP Factuel spoke to a spokesperson for Blink, who said, "The charging station is not powered by the diesel generator nor connected to it. To our knowledge, the generator is for emergency lighting and other amenities for the parking lot only and is designed for back-up power for the terminal. The generator is not in operation unless there is an emergency and the main power is cut." 

Electric vehicles generally have a smaller environmental impact than gas-powered cars, even when taking into consideration the electricity used to charge them, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. However, the difference in environmental impact depends on the type of car and whether or not the country in question relies on fossil fuels to produce its electricity.  

A video edited to discredit Joe Biden’s statements about electric cars 

There’s also been another piece of disinformation about electric cars circulating online in recent weeks: videos that have been widely shared on TikTok and Facebook show US President Joe Biden claiming that when you have an electric car, “you can go all the way across America on a single tank of gas.” But this video has actually been edited. 

This video was posted on Tik Tok on October 29 by an account that publishes pro-Republican content. By October 29, it had garnered more than 227,000 likes. 

Another Tik Tok video from October 31 has garnered 34,000 likes. The video was also posted and shared on Facebook on November 21, garnering 233,000 views.

In comments, people mocked the incoherence of the president’s statement, which appeared to claim that an electric car only needed one tank of gas to cover more than 6,000 kilometres.

However, it turns out the video has been edited. It actually shows an excerpt from a speech that Biden gave on October 28, championing "Build Back Better", his plan for social and environmental investment. What Biden actually said is, “When you buy an electric vehicle, you can go all the way across America on a single tank of gas, figuratively speaking.”

Starting at 14:07 in the video, Biden says: "We’ll build out the first national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations all across the country. So when you buy an electric vehicle, and you get credit for buying it, when you buy an electric vehicle, you can go all the way across America on a single tank of gas, figuratively speaking. It’s not gas, you plug it in. Five hundred thousand of them, these stations along the way.”

A video claiming to show the dangers of electric vehicles

Yet another video about electric cars has also been circulating online, this one garnering 9,000 views since it was posted on Tik Tok on August 8 by an account that regularly shares humorous videos and has more than 96,000 followers. The footage shows a car burning in a parking lot. The person who filmed it says that he won’t be buying an electric car for this reason.

However, if you compare the video with these photos, then you’ll quickly see that the model in the video is a white 2016 Jeep Cherokee, a car that is powered by gas. At 0:05, you can see the door to the gas tank. Thus, it turns out the video doesn’t show an electric car at all.