A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
CLAIM: “Worst pandemic in 100 years, what does Congress do? Takes a paid vacation.” – Facebook post, April 24
THE FACTS: Members of Congress aren’t taking a vacation while millions of Americans lose their jobs, as false posts circulating on Facebook and Twitter claim. Congressional leaders from both parties — including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as well as Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — have been in Washington to hammer out deals in recent days, The Associated Press reported. On Tuesday, the Senate met in a pro forma session with a few senators present to pass a $483 billion package that will help fund small business payrolls and hospitals. Then on Thursday, members of the House gathered in Washington, donning masks and bandannas for a vote. Lawmakers voted in blocks, by alphabetical order, to abide by social distancing rules. The House had last convened less than four weeks ago on March 27th to pass a $2 trillion package. Hoyer directly debunked rumors that legislators are simply vacationing during their time away from Washington. “These members have been working round-the-clock to make sure their communities are safe,” Hoyer said during Thursday’s House session. “You may not see us but millions and millions and millions of Americans are working at home. They are teleworking. That’s essentially what we’ve been doing. Teleworking. Don’t tell them they are not working. Because they know they are working. They have been a credit to their districts. Every member, Republican, Democrat.” Republican President Donald Trump helped to fuel false claims, after he tweeted last week a call for “Do Nothing Democrats” to “come back to Washington” and “End your ENDLESS VACATION!”
CLAIM: Photos show Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer violating social distancing rules on April 9.
THE FACTS: The photos date to September 2018, when Biden was campaigning in Michigan for Whitmer. A post circulating on Facebook features two photos from the visit. One shows Whitmer and former Vice President Biden posing side by side; in the other, Biden is walking across a parking lot with Whitmer and her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist, now Michigan’s lieutenant governor. A Facebook user posted the photos, stating: “Keep this going. This is Governor Whitmer with Joe Biden last Thursday April 9, 2020 in Lexington, Mi. See how well she practices social distancing?” The photo of Biden, Whitmer and Gilchrist was published on Sept. 12, 2018, by the Detroit Free Press. It was taken by Kathleen Galligan. In the posed picture of Biden and Whitmer, they are wearing clothing identical to what they have on in the photos taken by the Detroit Free Press during the campaign visit. Her office confirmed the photo was taken during the 2018 Biden visit. Whitmer tweeted the photo on March 5, 2020, when she announced she was endorsing Biden and would serve as co-chair of his campaign. This month, Trump unleashed tweets attacking Whitmer for her coronavirus response. Michigan has some of the nation’s strictest stay at home orders in response to the pandemic. Critics began falsely accusing the governor of violating her own social distancing rules when a Detroit TV station paired a bill signing that established a fine for social distancing violations with footage from a 2019 bill signing where Whitmer was surrounded by people.
CLAIM: Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign released an ad suggesting that voters should value his heart over his brain.
THE FACTS: The sham ad, which appears to question the mental capacity of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was not created or released by the Biden campaign. It features a photo of Biden smiling broadly. A burst of light has been added to the photo to appear as if it is emanating from his heart along with copy that states: “His brain? No. His heart.” At the bottom it says, “Approved by Joe Biden. Paid for by Biden for president.” Photographer Salwan Georges captured the original photo for The Washington Post. The photo shows Biden at the Iowa State Fair last August. A spokesperson with the Biden campaign confirmed to the AP in an email that the campaign did not release the ad, which had received tens of thousands of shares on social media by Friday. The bogus ad was shared widely on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit forums and 4Chan. A number of social media users who shared the phony ad insisted that it was real and released by the campaign. “This is a real ad 100% cannot make this up,” one Twitter user posted on April 21. Opponents of 77-year-old Biden, both on the right and left, have shared manipulated content to suggest he’s not mentally or physically prepared to serve as president. Twitter accounts run by the Trump campaign have shared clips of Biden stumbling or slurring his speech, drawing on comments Trump himself has made, when he referred to Biden as “Sleepy Joe.”
CLAIM: Any virus that originated from nature has its remedy and cure from nature. Only viruses made in laboratories require vaccines.
THE FACTS: Vaccination has been used to protect against viruses that have originated from nature for years. Widely shared posts online are making false statements about viruses. The Facebook and Instagram posts, which have been shared thousands of times, are attempting to sow doubt around the coronavirus as researchers rush to develop a vaccine against it. Human viruses like measles and polio have originated in nature and require vaccines, said Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University. “To say that any virus that originated from nature has its remedy in nature, ignores the fact that all human viruses came from nature, and that we have made vaccines for many of them,” he said in an email. “I am unaware of any remedy from nature that prevents infection with any human virus.” The vaccine for yellow fever has been around since the 1930s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus, which is found in the tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America, is transmitted to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes. “We have science and medicine to thank for the protection we have against many virus infections,” Rancaniello said.
CLAIM: Video caught an exchange between Fox News and New York Times journalists revealing they believe COVID-19 was a “hoax.”
THE FACTS: A video feed that was actively recording the White House briefing room on Monday captured an exchange between Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts and New York Times photographer Doug Mills, saying COVID-19 was a “hoax” and “we’ve all been vaccinated,” but the comments were taken out of context. Roberts told the AP the comments were made in jest. Speaking before the White House coronavirus task force briefing, Roberts told Mills about a newly released study from the University of Southern California and Los Angeles County. According to the study, the coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles County was much more widespread than initially reported, meaning there would be a lower death rate. In the video, Mills greets Roberts. “What do you know, buddy?” Mills asks Roberts, who responds, “You can take off the mask, the case fatality rate is 0.1 to 0.3, according to USC.” “Really? That’s reassuring,” Mills remarks. “Everyone here’s been vaccinated anyway.” The study conducted April 10-11 by the county and USC estimated that approximately 4.1% of the county’s adult population of eight million has antibodies to the virus, the AP reported. When adjusted for margin of error, the infection rate ranged from 2.8% to 5.6%, or about 220,000 to 440,000 adults. On Tuesday, a video clip of the conversation between Roberts and Mills circulated widely on social media posts suggesting it revealed the virus was a hoax and that the media was in on it. “The same media that tells you the world needs to be shut down but behind the scenes, they really don’t believe what they tell you,” one post stated. One post had nearly one million views, falsely identifying Mills as a “tech.” The post falsely claimed: “Very Interesting exchange Caught on (GST HOT MIC) between FAKE NEWS @FoxNews @johnrobertsFox and a FAKE NEWS Tech at Todays White House Press Briefing!” Roberts told the AP in a phone interview that the comments were “sardonic gallows humor.” He said that he and Mills are friends and that Mills wears a mask every day. Roberts also stressed that both he and Mills are treating the virus seriously, and do not believe in conspiracy theories around the virus. Mills told the AP in an email that there is no vaccine, and the conversation was a “total joke.”
CLAIM: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam violated his stay-at-home order to travel to his vacation home in North Carolina.
THE FACTS: Social media users began sharing posts Tuesday night before Virginia’s General Assembly reconvened on Wednesday, claiming the the governor had snuck off with his family to their North Carolina vacation home. Northam’s office says he has not left the state since the order went into place in March. Posts online suggested that the governor had escaped to Manteo, North Carolina, part of the Outer Banks. “Northam is abandoning his duties in Richmond during a time of emergency so that he can travel unnecessarily to spend his time in leisure at his families vacation home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina,” one post online said. Alena Yarmosky, press secretary for Northam, said in an email that the governor has remained in Virginia. “Gov. Northam has been working on behalf of Virginians seven days a week and has not left the Commonwealth since stay-home orders went into place,” she said. “Anything else is a lie. People spread lies all the time for political gain, and they should be ashamed of themselves.” Virginia Sen. Amanda Chase, a Republican, posted a video on her Facebook page on Tuesday questioning whether the governor was in the Outer Banks: “Governor Northam sighted in Manteo, NC aka the Outer Banks during HIS stay at home order???” She updated the comment on Wednesday saying that her office was looking into the situation but initial checks had found nothing to support he had left the state. “The people that I have looking into this are finding that this claim is unfounded,” she said in a video on Facebook. Virginia’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 30 and is scheduled to last until June 10.
CLAIM: Trader Joe’s has announced that it is giving away free groceries worth $250 to everyone due to “Corona Pandemic.”
THE FACTS: Fake coupons circulating on Facebook are suggesting that stores like Trader Joe’s and Walmart are giving away $250 worth of groceries to shoppers due to the pandemic. Trader Joe’s, a national supermarket chain, does not offer any coupons, discounts or gift cards online. “When alerted to the existence of misleading promotions of this nature, we actively attempt to get our name removed,” the company said in an online statement April 15. Social media users shared the scam telling users to “Hurry up! Collect your FREE voucher here” and click on the link. After you click on the link, you are taken to a website where you are asked to fill out a survey about Trader Joe’s. The website says you will receive your voucher for the fake coupon within two hours. A similar post was shared last week in Mexico. By posting fake coupons online, scammers can gather traffic to a website, upload malware to your device, or steal your personal information or even money, according to Katherine R. Hutt, national spokesperson for the International Association of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. Hutt said scams like the Trader Joe’s fake coupon are often recycled online and then tied to the latest breaking news event like coronavirus to hook people. She encourages social media users to be skeptical of the information they see online. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “In the midst of a pandemic, is Trader Joe’s really going to be giving away $250?”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
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