NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

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:

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CLAIM: More than 128 million people tuned in to watch the Republican National Convention’s opening day, compared to just over 20 million who watched the Democratic National Convention.

THE FACTS: There’s no data to back this up. In fact, available metrics show more viewers tuned into the first night of the DNC than the first night of the RNC. The Associated Press reported an estimated 17 million people watched the last hour of the Republican National Convention’s opening night on Aug. 24 on television. That is lower than the estimated 19.7 million who tuned into the first night of the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17. The estimates come from the Nielsen company, and account for viewers of 11 television networks. There is no way to truly calculate the total views across platforms, including all online streaming options. False claims circulated on Twitter and Facebook about viewership between the conventions. “Day 1 of the DNC: 21.4 Million Views. Day 1 of the RNC: 128.4 Million,” reads one widely shared Facebook post. The AP could find no evidence for the 128.4 million figure cited in the post, which is six times greater than the figure listed for the DNC. A headline in The Hill did announce, “First night of GOP convention delivers nearly six times more views than start of Democrats’ event on C-SPAN live stream.” The article only referred to online C-SPAN views, which were 440,000 on the opening day of the RNC, compared to 76,000 for the DNC. Those numbers represent a small fraction of the millions of viewers who watched the conventions across multiple networks and platforms. It is possible that the 128.4 million figure in the post was generated by taking 21.4 million, which was a preliminary Nielsen estimate for the third night of the DNC, and multiplying it by six, based on a misunderstanding of the headlines about the C-SPAN numbers. Nielsen estimated the GOP enjoyed slightly more viewers than Democrats on the second night of conventions, when an estimated 19.4 million tuned into the RNC on television, versus 19.2 million who tuned into the DNC. Democrats had more viewers on the third night, with an estimated 22.8 million viewers compared to 17.3 million for Republicans. And on the final night of their respective events, the Democrats had 24.6 million viewers, while Republicans had 23.8 million.

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— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block reported this item from Berkeley, California.

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CLAIM: Photos show four police officers who were injured by Democrats and Black Lives Matter rioters over the weekend in Portland, Seattle and nearby cities.

THE FACTS: The officers in the photos weren’t injured at U.S. protests — in fact, they were on the other side of the world. The four photos in a post being shared on social media show police officers who sustained injuries in various parts of Australia in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2019. On Aug. 25, a grid of the four photos, featuring bloodied and bandaged police officers, was circulating widely on Facebook with more than 1,200 shares and 56,000 views. “50 police officers were injured by Dems and BLM rioters over the weekend in Portland Seattle and other nearby cities,” the caption read. “Pray for their safety.” However, research into the origin of the photos reveals they were all taken in Australia — and not over the weekend. The photo on the top left shows a police officer kneeling in the street with his hand on his knee and his forehead dripping blood. It can be traced to a September 2012 protest in Sydney, where demonstrations against a film perceived as anti-Islamic grew violent, according to local news reports with the photo. The photo on the top right shows a police officer sitting indoors, her face covered in scratches and one hand stretched across her body to hold her other arm. Police released the photo in April 2019, after a man on parole in a Sydney suburb allegedly bit and scratched a 22-year-old officer during a welfare check, according to local reports featuring the image. In the bottom left of the grid is a photo of a police officer on what appears to be a hospital bed, his eyes closed and his uniform marred by dark stains. It stems from a Western Australia pub fight in March 2006 when a bar patron attacked a police officer trying to break up the clash, according to local news reports using the photo. The photo on the bottom right shows a police officer with swollen eyes and a bandage wrapped around the middle of his face. It was taken after a Christmas Day 2009 fight in Western Australia, which resulted in a police officer getting struck in the face with a brick, according to local news stories at the time. Though these photos don’t relate to recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, several police officers have been injured in the demonstrations that have sprung up across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The Associated Press has reported on several such incidents, including at protests in Seattle and Portland.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson reported this item from Seattle.

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CLAIM: If a voter mails a ballot on Sunday and then shows up to a polling station to vote in person on Tuesday, election workers will not know whether the person has already voted.

THE FACTS: Anyone who tries to vote twice with the intent of both ballots counting could be prosecuted for voter fraud, and there are checks in place to prevent a person from voting twice. When a voter shows up to vote in person, the poll book will typically indicate if the voter has been issued a vote-by-mail ballot — and may even show the poll worker if that ballot has already been processed. States vary on what happens next. In some states, a poll worker may be able to void the mailed ballot if the voter prefers to vote in person. In other states, the voter will be given a provisional ballot and election officials will later determine if the provisional ballot should be counted or not. Vote-by-mail ballots are verified before they are counted, and one check is whether the voter already voted. “States have different processes; they have their own ways of making sure that two ballots don’t get counted,” said Myrna Pérez, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Yet social media users are sharing a post that suggests a loophole. “This is real — If I mail in my ballot on Sunday and show up to the polling station on Tuesday, they won’t know if I’ve already voted or not. That my friends….is a serious concern for all of us,” reads the inaccurate post. Matthew Weil, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project warned that waiting until the Sunday before Election Day to mail a ballot will be too late in many states to have the ballot count. “I push people to vote by mail much earlier,” Weil said. Deadlines vary by state, and voting experts say voters should check the laws in their state.

— Jude Joffe-Block

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CLAIM: Photos show after a recent motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, the street was clean, while after protests in Seattle, the sidewalk was covered in mounds of trash.

THE FACTS: The photo that social media users claim shows Seattle was, in fact, taken clear across the country. It shows trash left on a street after a fire in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York — not in the Seattle neighborhood where protesters formed a self-declared autonomous zone earlier this year, as suggested by inaccurate social media posts. The photo was taken from a video shot in Brooklyn by Manny Lorras, who captured the aftermath of a fire triggered by a cigarette thrown into trash. As for the photo from Sturgis, the exact date and time it was taken could not be determined, so it’s not clear whether it’s from after the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The Associated Press reported that thousands attended the rally from Aug. 7 to 16 despite coronavirus concerns. Each year the city measures how many people attended the event by weighing all the trash that’s generated, and this year, a city official said that total was 444 tons, down from 551 tons last year. The streets were cleaned afterward. Lorras’ video, shot June 2, was shared by a neighborhood blog and Instagram account known as Greenpointers. “The large amount of trash sprawled across West Street on Tuesday morning was caused by a lit cigarette tossed from an apartment erupting the pile of trash bags in flames, surveillance video shows, and is apparently not related to the demonstrations last night,” said the Greenpointers Instagram post. The photo has also been shared falsely online with claims it showed the aftermath from other protests.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy reported this item from New York.

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CLAIM: Video shows oil rigs being evacuated during Hurricane Laura.

THE FACTS: No, the video wasn’t taken during that storm — or even in that part of the world. On Aug. 26, a Twitter user posted a video showing massive waves crashing against an oil rig and falsely claimed it was from Hurricane Laura. “Oil rigs evacuated ahead of soon to be Category 5 #HurricaneLaura. Potential environmental nightmare looming. Hope for the best,” the user tweeted. The false post had over 1,700 retweets on Twitter. In fact, the video shows waves hitting a swaying Borgholm Dolphin installation in the North Sea, about 145 miles east of Aberdeen, Scotland. Also, the video the Twitter user posted was stretched and mirrored, which exaggerated the impact of the waves. The BBC posted video of the incident to YouTube on January 12, 2015. One of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the U.S., Laura roared ashore Thursday in Louisiana near the Texas border and pounded the Gulf Coast with wind and rain. The hurricane’s top wind speed of 150 mph (241 kph) put it among the most powerful systems on record in the U.S. Not until 11 hours after landfall did Laura finally weaken into a tropical storm as it churned toward Arkansas.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka reported this item from New York.

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CLAIM: Kathy Hoffman, the state superintendent of Arizona public schools, “hates the Bible so much” that she swore her oath on a Dr. Seuss book. She is pushing child sex education that would teach kindergartners about masturbation and sex positions, and she wants to “put makeup on boys.”

THE FACTS: It’s true that Hoffman was sworn in using a children’s book, but it wasn’t one by Dr. Seuss. As for the sex education claims, these are “categorically false,” according to Richie Taylor, communications director for the superintendent. Hoffman has been a target of online hate and misinformation in recent weeks ever since endorsing the Democratic ticket for the presidency and criticizing President Donald Trump’s attempts to reopen schools. Posts with false information about Hoffman have amassed millions of views on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They’ve also resulted in threatening messages sent to the superintendent’s office, according to Taylor. Several posts circulated the false claim that the schools chief “hates the Bible so much” she used a Dr. Seuss book for her swearing-in ceremony. The Associated Press reported in January 2019 that Hoffman took her oath with her hand on “Too Many Moose” by Lisa Bakos, a book she once used in her classroom to help students with speech impediments. There’s no evidence Hoffman’s feelings about the Bible played into the decision. According to the U.S. Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be required” for elected office in the United States. Therefore, putting a hand on the Bible during an oath of office is traditional, but not mandatory. Facebook posts also suggested Hoffman “is pushing sex education on kindergartners that includes teaching them masturbation and sexual positions.” That is false. In 2019, Hoffman asked the state board of education to consider a proposal to change the language in some of its sex education rules, according to AP reporting. The proposal included cutting language requiring boys and girls to be taught separately, adding a requirement for sex education to be medically accurate, and removing language that prohibits the “teaching of abnormal, deviate, or unusual sexual acts and practices.” It didn’t change an existing requirement that sex education be age-appropriate. The proposal was rejected by the board, and Hoffman has not advocated any further changes to the sex ed rules since then, according to Taylor. Sex education curriculum in Arizona is also optional and set at the local district level. If a district offers sex ed instruction, parents must opt in for their children to participate. A final claim in many false posts about Hoffman included that the schools chief wanted to “put makeup on boys to allow them to have a sexuality choice.” Taylor said Hoffman supports LGBTQ rights, but this particular claim is false. “She has not advocated for boys to wear makeup,” Taylor said. “Issues of sexual orientation or gender identity are personal and conversations around those issues should be between parents, students, and other trusted adults that know the individual situation of each student.”

— Ali Swenson

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CLAIM: New York University has been working with a small, student-led task force to make racially segregated housing a reality in undergraduate student dorms.

THE FACTS: After a student group applied to establish a dorm floor around themes of Black history and culture earlier in the summer, NYU clarified such floors must be open to students of “all races and backgrounds.” On July 20, NYU’s student-run newspaper the Washington Square News wrote about a student group’s efforts to establish Black student housing for first-year students. According to the article, two students created an online petition demanding the housing because they felt the university didn’t provide adequate support for its Black students. A month later, an article on a website that describes itself as being associated with the “socialist movement” spun the report into the false claim that NYU intends to segregate its students based on race. “New York University moves to implement racial segregation in student dorms,” read the headline of the Aug. 24 article, which was captured in a screenshot and shared in an Instagram post viewed more than 100,000 times. “Since late June, the Office of Residential Life and Housing Services at New York University (NYU) has been working closely with a small, student-led task force to make racially segregated housing a reality in undergraduate student dorms,” the article continued. This article is not true, according to a statement published the same day by NYU, which called the article “false and misleading.” According to the statement, when students applied to create an “Exploration Floor” in the dorms based on Black history and culture earlier in the summer, the housing office staff clarified that the floor must remain open to people of any race or background. “The University strongly supports the goals of diversity, and of creating an environment that is welcoming, supportive, and inclusive for students of color and students from marginalized communities,” the statement said. “However, NYU does not have and will not create student housing that excludes any student based on race.”

— Ali Swenson

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