Posts falsely claim electrically-charged rocks found in Congo

January 25, 2023 GMT
FILE- In this Aug. 16, 2012 file photo, a Congolese miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite mine, in Nyabibwe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Social media users have falsely claimed that electrically-charged stones have been found in Congo. (AP Photo/Marc Hofer, file)
FILE- In this Aug. 16, 2012 file photo, a Congolese miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite mine, in Nyabibwe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Social media users have falsely claimed that electrically-charged stones have been found in Congo. (AP Photo/Marc Hofer, file)

CLAIM: Electrically-charged stones have been discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While some minerals can serve as conduits for electricity, rocks can’t store electricity, experts told The Associated Press. A video circulating in connection with the claim shows a rock that is likely pyrite, a common mineral that can conduct electricity but cannot store it, experts say.

THE FACTS: Claims that electrically-charged stones were discovered in the central African nation have spread widely across social media platforms in recent days, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Some users likened the supposed discovery to “vibranium,” a fictional rare metal that can store and release energy in Marvel comics and films like “Black Panther”.

As proof, social media users shared a video showing several people inspecting a small, shiny rock. One of the individuals connects two ends of what appears to be a wire to the rock, which activates a light on the wire.

“Electrically charged stones discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” one Twitter user who shared the video wrote Saturday. The tweet was shared over 27,000 times.

But these claims are as fanciful as a superhero movie, experts say. Certain minerals can conduct electricity, but none can store electricity. Experts told the AP that the substance in the video is likely pyrite, a common sulfide mineral with a shiny metallic luster that can conduct electricity.

“Minerals within those rocks, or if you have sufficient concentrations of them, can conduct electricity, but there’s no way they can really store it,” Simon Jowitt, an associate professor of economic geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It just passes through, going from one end to the other, like if you had an electrical current passing through a bit of metal.”

Experts said it’s unclear exactly how the light in the video is being powered, but all agreed rocks alone can’t hold a charge.

Rocks, unlike batteries, are unable to release electricity on their own because they lack a chemical reaction that releases electrons and allows the electrons to flow, Jowitt explained.

“There’s no chemical reactive capacity in a rock that you would get in a battery,” he said.

Yaoguo Li, a professor of geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines, said of the notion that rocks can store electricity: “We don’t know of any mechanism, thus far, that actually supports that kind of phenomenon.”

Naturally-occurring rocks typically lack all the necessary components of batteries, such as both positive and negative electrodes, said Yuzhang Li, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I don’t think there’s any new physics being discovered here,” Li said. “I would doubt that the rock alone is generating some kind of voltage.”

Benjamin Hallett, a geology lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, guessed that the person holding the rock in the video may also be holding a battery.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.