Snopes Fact-Checker Jumbles Claim Missing Titanic Submersible Was Using Elon Musk’s StarLink Service

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
June 21, 2023News
Snopes Fact-Checker Jumbles Claim Missing Titanic Submersible Was Using Elon Musk’s StarLink Service
OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush emerges from the hatch atop the OceanGate submarine Cyclops 1 in the San Juan Islands, Wash., on Sept. 12, 2018. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times via AP)

Fact-checking organization Snopes issued an inaccurate fact-check that suggested that the missing OceanGate Titanic exploration submersible was using Elon Musk’s StarLink satellite internet service.

On Tuesday, Snopes published an article titled “Was the Missing Titanic Submersible Using Satellites from Elon Musk’s Company?” The claim the Snopes article originally addressed is somewhat different from the article’s headline. While the headline asks “Was the Missing Titanic Submersible Using Satellites from Elon Musk’s Company?” the article itself says it is addressing the claim: “OceanGate’s submersible that went missing in June 2023 on a Titanic wreckage exploration relied on Elon Musk’s SpaceX-run Starlink satellites to provide communications during the expedition.”

While the Snopes article initially concluded that it’s “True” that the OceanGate submersible company used StarLink, the way the claim was addressed in the headline led to some confusion.

Twitter—which Musk owns—appended a “Community Note” to a Twitter link to the Snopes article, disputing the Snopes assessment. The note states that while OceanGate has used StarLink services, those services have assisted OceanGate’s surface vessels rather than submersibles like the one that remains missing.

The note further clarifies that the radio frequencies the StarLink service uses do not work reliably underwater.

“Starlink operates in the 10.7 to 12.7 GHz band. […] Penetration depth of 2.45GHz in water is <8cm and falls off with increasing frequency. […] Therefore, Starlink cannot be used to communicate with an underwater submarine,” the note states.

Amid the notes rebuttal, Snopes has issued multiple updates to its original article. One of the updates at the bottom of the Snopes article states, “This fact check was amended to address the legitimacy of claims that the submersible itself used Starlink during the exhibition, not whether its company did. While it was true that Oceangate and Starlink worked together during the expedition, it was unknown if, or to what extent, the submersible itself relied on Starlink’s technology.”

The Snopes article now rates the claim as “Unproven” rating rather than  “True.”

“Starlink is a subsidiary of SpaceX, which Elon Musk runs, and OceanGate indeed said it was relying on the company for the exhibition, which included the submersible and a mothership — that is, a vessel that stays above water to navigate and communicate with land during the exhibition,” the Snopes article reads. “It’s unknown if, or to what extent, Starlink was used by the submersible itself at any point, or whether it was only used by the mothership. That said, we do not know how much Starlink is responsible for the loss of contact with the submersible, nor the reasons behind that loss of contact.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the updated Snopes article does not mention the citations by the Twitter Community Note that indicate StarLink services do not work reliably underwater. Those note citations, if accurate, would altogether refute the idea that the submersible was using StarLink service.

NTD News contacted Snopes for further comment about how it’s incorporating the claims from the Twitter Community Note into its revised fact-checking assessment. The publication did not respond by the time this article was published.

Musk mocked Snopes for the article and its subsequent Twitter Community Note, tweeting, “You can’t even run a good psy op.”

Search Continues For Submersible

The OceanGate submersible Titan has been out of contact with its surface support vessel since Sunday. The submersible’s disappearance has sparked an extensive search effort with cooperation between the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard services.

The ongoing search effort is a race against time, as officials have estimated the Titan submersible only had about 96 hours worth of life support for the five people on board when it submerged on Sunday.

Crews searching for the submersible reported hearing “underwater noises” and even “banging” sounds on Tuesday evening.

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