Facebook logo on a whale

Andrea Austria/ Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Misinformation about recent whale deaths dominated discussions of offshore wind energy on Facebook

During the first two months of 2023, right-leaning pages earned 90% of interactions on wind energy

  • After a slew of whale deaths along the east coast of the U.S., right-wing media have been promoting false fossil fuel industry talking points about offshore wind projects on Facebook.

    Media Matters found that in the first two months of 2023, from January 1 - March 1: 

    • Of the 288 posts that mention wind energy, nearly 84% specifically mentioned the unsubstantiated claim that offshore wind farms impact whale populations. These posts received 73,457 (73%) out of 101,277 interactions on posts about wind energy. 
    • 22 out of the top 50 most-interacted with posts about offshore wind energy contained misinformation claiming that they may be responsible for whale deaths on the East Coast. 
    • None of the posts with misinformation had fact-checks from Facebook moderators, and nearly all of them were from right-leaning pages.


    • Right-leaning pages earned 90% of interactions on posts about wind energy.


    • Many posts that did not contain misinformation still promoted a misleading narrative about offshore wind projects.

    According to NOAA and other experts, there is no evidence that proposed offshore projects have contributed to what the agency is calling an “unusual mortality event.”

    Ramping up offshore wind development has been a focus of Biden’s energy agenda. In 2021, the administration set a goal of deploying 30 Gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. More recently, the Inflation Reduction Act granted $100 million for offshore wind projects and reopened additional areas for lease in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic for wind development. 

    This effort, along with concerns over what is causing whale mortality, has mobilized clean energy opponents and sparked extensive coverage and discussion on Facebook, driven almost entirely by right-leaning pages.

  • 84% of Facebook posts about wind energy also mentioned whale populations

  • Out of the 288 posts on the topic of wind energy from the study period, 241, or 84%, specifically mentioned whale populations. From December 1 to March 1, 16 humpback whales have been stranded on or near beaches in states along the Atlantic coast, mostly in New Jersey and New York. North Atlantic Right Whales have also been experiencing an unusual mortality event along the Atlantic Coast since 2017; 6 have been found dead so far in 2023. 

    Currently, there are only two functional wind farms in the U.S., with about 20 proposed offshore wind projects in various stages of development in 11 states along the East Coast. This has become the perfect opportunity for anti-renewable activists and fossil fuels industry shills posing as environmentalists sympathetic to the plight of whales to launch a public relations and legal campaign in opposition to these offshore wind projects.

    Right-wing media, and particularly Fox News, have propelled these efforts in response to Biden’s push for offshore wind. One of the top posts with the most interactions, about 1,600, featured a FoxNews.com article with a headline that read, “SOMETHING FISHY: Congressman says green energy projects may be to blame for animal deaths.” That Congressman is Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who introduced legislation that would mandate a federal investigation into the role wind energy development may have played in the recent uptick in whale deaths.

  • Fox News article with image of beached whale
  • Smith isn’t the only lawmaker that spoke out after extensive right-wing media coverage. Reps. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), as well as a dozen New Jersey mayors have all called for a moratorium on offshore wind construction. 

    Another popular post was a screenshot of a tweet from Monica Crowley, a right-wing podcaster, former Trump official, and former Fox News contributor. The post suggests environmentalists do not care about whales dying because, in this instance, it does not fit their political agenda. It was shared by several pages affiliated with The Western Journal, including the Tea Party Community and Conservative Tribune. The February 13 tweet itself had over 100,000 likes, shares, and comments.

  • screenshot of a tweet from Monica Crowley
  • 22 out of the top 50 posts with the most interactions about offshore wind and whales contained misinformation on the topic.

  • Nearly half of the top 50 posts examined by Media Matters incorrectly linked whale deaths to offshore wind projects. 

    The most popular post from our study, which had nearly 19,500 interactions, was a clip from the January 11 edition of Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime where Watters claimed that surveying for wind projects is killing whales. On January 11, Watters did a segment on his prime time show where he attempted to misleadingly portray Protect Our Coasts NJ as a grassroots oceans advocacy organization.

  • Jesse Watters plays video of beached whale
  • The second most popular post, which had almost 15,500 interactions came from Power the Future, whose founder, Daniel Turner, is an alumnus of the Charles Koch Institute. The post links to an opinion piece by Turner claiming that “radical environmentalists” are blaming whale deaths on fishing communities when they should, without evidence, be blaming wind farms.

  • Power The Future posts an article about "radical wind farm activists" from the Daily Caller
  • None of the posts were labeled as misleading by Facebook fact-checkers

  • None of the posts which contained blatant misinformation were labeled as such by Facebook through its fact-checking partnerships. In general, these posts failed to note NOAA’s statement on the topic or statements from any experts that have pointed out the improbability of a connection between the mortality event and offshore wind, especially given that whales face many other risks such as vessel strikes and entanglement. Some posts also accused environmentalists, Democrats and the Biden administration of being dismissive about the plight of whales. In reality, Biden’s massive investments in renewable energy may actually be key to helping save marine life; burning fossil fuels is impacting the species by limiting the availability of their food and changing marine migration patterns. 

    Other social media posts that were not included in this study and contain similar misinformation on the topic have been repeatedly fact-checked by other sites.

  • Many posts that did not contain misinformation still promoted a misleading narrative about offshore wind projects

  • Several posts Media Matters looked at featured articles and reports from USA Today, NPR, POLITICO, and Greenpeace that called out this misinformation campaign around offshore wind.

    However, these debunks were outnumbered by content that, even if it acknowledged the lack of evidence to support anti-wind talking points, still gave them credence by repeating them over and over again without an immediate debunk and framing the issue as a real debate when very few groups actually disagree with NOAA, and those that do have no evidence to support their claims. Some coverage is also omitting or muddling key details about how far along the wind projects are to make them seem more directly correlated with whale deaths. 

    Even left-leaning pages were complicit in this. For example, a NowThis video asked: “Could Offshore Wind Developments be Causing Whales to Die?” The answer is no, but that isn’t evident until the end of the video. 

    All in all, the fact that content about all of the benefits offshore wind could bring to coastal communities paled in comparison to perceived harms reveals the success of fossil fuel industry propaganda online.

  • Is offshore wind killing whales?
  • Conservative New Jersey activist jumps into anti-wind crusade

  • Out of all of the posts about whales and offshore wind, 31 posts (13%) came from the page of a conservative activist Joseph Rudy Rullo, who unsuccessfully ran for New Jersey governor in 2017. So far, in 2023, Rullo has dedicated his Facebook page which has 384,000 followers, to spreading misinformation about offshore wind development and bashing New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for opting to not implement a moratorium on offshore wind development off of the New Jersey coast. He has also been used as a source on the topic for local New Jersey news.

    Rullo has directed his followers to take steps to actively oppose offshore wind projects, such as attending New Jersey EPA meetings as well as the February 19 rally to “save the whales.” At the rally, “organizers” with the fossil fuel industry front group Protect Our Oceans NJ addressed the crowd along with lawmakers.

  • Right-leaning pages posted the most about wind energy compared to left-leaning and ideologically nonaligned pages

  • Right-leaning pages that post about news and politics have almost completely dominated the Facebook conversation about wind energy in general, not just offshore wind. Right-leaning pages posted more often, and earned more total interactions than either nonaligned or left-leaning pages. Right-leaning pages earned over 91,300 interactions on posts about wind energy, or 90% of all interactions on posts about wind energy, while nonaligned pages earned over 5,800 interactions (6%), and left-leaning pages earned 4,077 interactions (4%). 

    Right-leaning Facebook pages made 192 posts about wind energy issues, over twice the volume of nonaligned pages, which had 81 posts. Left-leaning pages made just 15 posts. All in all, right-leaning pages made up 67%, or nearly three-quarters of Facebook posts about wind energy.

    These posts mainly focused on offshore wind projects and marine life, but also pushed misinformation about the functionality of wind turbines on land and their environmental impact, in addition to making exaggerated statements about how often they experience structural issues. 

    For example, one Newsmax headline suggested that green energy is flawed while in the same video a Newsmax correspondent admitted that according to the Department of Energy, the “reliability rate of a wind turbine is about 98% so these collapses and failures are quite rare by industry standards.”

  • Jon Glasgow on wind turbines on American Agenda
  • The threat that wind turbines pose to birds, which has long been exaggerated and pale in comparison to other threats to avian life such as climate change, buildings, pesticides, and domestic cats was also a theme. The idea has been a staple of climate change deniers with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, such as Robert Bryce and more recently resurrected by renewable energy skeptics on Twitter.

  • Methodology

  • Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.

    For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.

    The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.

    Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were related to wind energy or whales deaths that contained the keywords: “wind energy,” “wind turbines,” “wind turbine,” “wind farm,” “wind farms,” “offshore wind,” “wind projects,” “wind project,” “wind development," “dead whale,” “whale death,” or “whale deaths” in the post itself or in the headline or description of any included link from January 1, 2023, through March 1, 2023.

    Two Media Matters researchers then reviewed the posts to determine which ones were relevant to the topic of wind energy, and which were relevant to the topic of offshore wind and whales specifically.

    Finally, researchers coded 50 posts with the most interactions to determine whether they contained misinformation about offshore wind and whale mortality. Misinformation in this case was defined as the suggestion that there is evidence that offshore wind development, most frequently the sonar used in undersea surveys, has been or may be contributing to whale deaths. If coding differed, posts were reviewed and discussed to reach a consensus.