NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what happened 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:
CLAIM: Infrared thermometers, which are held near the forehead to scan body temperature without direct contact, point an infrared light directly at the brain’s pineal gland, exposing it to harmful radiation.
THE FACTS: Infrared thermometers don’t emit radiation into the brain; they sense heat emitted by the body. They pose no risk to the pineal gland, which is located deep within the brain, according to Dr. Haris Sair, director of neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins University. Non-contact infrared thermometers that are held up to a person’s forehead have become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses and governments seek ways to detect possible infection without risk of transmission. Social media posts circulating widely on Facebook this week falsely suggested the thermometers are aimed at the same “exact point” as the pineal gland and could be exposing it to some sort of harmful radiation or infrared light. “WHY ARE THEY AIMING A LASER RAY AT OUR PINEAL GLAND FOR A VIRUS THAT HAS A 99.9% SURVIVAL RATE?” read the text on one viral image, which was shared in several posts collectively viewed more than 100,000 times. Some social media users also speculated on why the thermometers were allegedly targeting the pineal gland — a tiny gland that produces melatonin, among other hormones, and has colloquially been called the “third eye.” According to Sair, these posts are false on two counts: the notion that these thermometers target the pineal gland, and the notion that they emit radiation. Infrared thermometers are meant to pick up the natural infrared wavelengths that your body emits, Sair said. They don’t send infrared light or wavelengths into the body. “It’s not sending any kind of signal,” he said. Tim Robinson, vice president of marketing at the Utah-based temperature instrument retailer ThermoWorks, said it’s a “common misconception” that non-contact infrared thermometers are transmitting waves into the body. “There’s that sensation that you’re somehow sending something that’s going to bounce back, but none of that is true,” he said. “It’s just a catcher. It’s catching light waves.”
CLAIM: If your coronavirus test comes back positive, it “could also be the common cold.” “This is straight from the CDC.”
THE FACTS: Posts sharing this claim are mistaking guidance on antibody tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the health agency’s guidance on tests for the virus. A common cold alone would not result in a positive COVID-19 test. There are two types of tests available that relate to COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests. Viral tests check if the virus that causes COVID-19 is active in the body, while antibody tests are designed to look for a past infection by checking the blood for relevant antibodies. As part of its guidance on antibody tests, the CDC’s website says: “A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.” In recent weeks, social media users have confused this message on antibody tests as pertaining to viral tests. “So if your Corona test is positive it could also be the common cold,” reads one Facebook post viewed more than 160,000 times. “This is straight from the CDC. I rest my case.” This post misrepresents CDC information, and is false. If your viral test is positive, it means you have a current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the specific virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC.
CLAIM: A video makes numerous claims about preventing the coronavirus, stating that hydroxychloroquine can prevent and cure COVID-19, and wearing masks and keeping people locked down have no value.
THE FACTS: The video, which features a group that calls itself America’s Frontline Doctors, tells viewers they have been duped into isolating themselves and encourages people in the U.S. to return to their normal activities. It relies on unsubstantiated and false information to make the case. The video was viewed millions of times and was retweeted by President Donald Trump. Multiple social media platforms removed the video because it contained false information. Many of the key false claims in the video were made by Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston physician, who said she has successfully treated 350 patients using the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. She recommends using the drug alone as a preventive, and with zinc and azithromycin as a cure for COVID-19. “I came here to Washington, D.C., to tell America nobody needs to get sick,” she said in the video. “This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax. I know you people want to talk about a mask. Hello? You don’t need mask. There is a cure. I know they don’t want to open schools. No, you don’t need people to be locked down. There is prevention and there is a cure.” Claims that hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating the coronavirus have been widely debunked by top health officials and the drug has been a part of several national studies. “There is no evidence done in a rigorous study that shows hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin or zinc or whatever combination you use that has any benefit in the treatment of coronavirus to date,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar who specializes in infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In June, the U.S Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a similar drug, to treat COVID-19, basing its decision on large and randomized clinical trials of hospitalized patients. The FDA said that the drugs “showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.” The NIH recently conducted its own study of hydroxychloroquine on the coronavirus and found that it offered no benefit to patients. The AP reported on a nationwide study released in April that looked at 368 patients and how they responded to hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, also known as Zithromax. The analysis of the use of the drugs in U.S. veterans’ hospitals revealed that there were more deaths among those who were given the malaria drug versus standard care. While there has been evidence that hydroxychloroquine has an effect against the coronavirus in a laboratory setting, it does not appear to have any kind of beneficial effect in humans, said Adalja of Johns Hopkins. The World Health Organization has said there is currently no cure for the virus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the U.S. and 675,000 around the world. The video not only touted hydroxychloroquine but it also attacked recommendations made by top health officials to combat the virus. In the video, Immanuel says Americans don’t need a mask because hydroxychloroquine is the cure. Experts have said time and time again that wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of the coronavirus along with keeping six feet apart. While lockdowns may disrupt day-to-day life, health experts agree that they limit the transmission of the virus.
CLAIM: Photo shows a federal police officer in a futuristic-looking helmet and body armor, reminiscent of a “stormtrooper” in the “Star Wars” franchise, during a recent deployment in Portland, Oregon.
THE FACTS: While federal police officers have appeared in Portland in recent weeks dressed in camouflage and tactical gear, this image is not real — it’s an artist’s rendering of an imagined police vest. On Monday, July 27, social media posts circulating on Facebook and Twitter claimed to show a photo of a federal “stormtrooper” decked out in gray armor that covered his head, face, neck and upper body. “A Federal Stormtrooper deployed in Portland to deal with peaceful protesters,” read one Facebook post viewed more than 20,000 times. “This is America.” A Facebook page promoting Medicare for All shared the photo too, lamenting the apparent excess armor during a pandemic that has left some medical personnel without adequate personal protective equipment. “Remember when doctors, nurses, and hospital staff didn’t have masks or tests??” the post read. “...but Trump’s stormtroopers are decked out in tens of thousands of dollars worth of hi-tech equipment like they’re going to war in outer Space.” It’s true that federal agents responding to protests against police brutality in Portland, Seattle and other cities have worn military fatigues, masks and helmets, often covering most of their bodies. However, this particular image sparking concerns on social media this week does not show a real federal officer. Instead, it’s an artist’s digital illustration of a futuristic police vest. The image appears on a portfolio website for Michael Andrew Nash, an Australia-based digital artist who posted the illustration on a digital blog as early as August 2016. ”Yes, I created the work,” Nash told the AP in an email. “Nothing political behind it.”
CLAIM: Video shows Hurricane Hanna knocking down Trump’s border wall.
THE FACTS: The video does show heavy winds knocking down a section of border wall being built under the Trump administration, but it was not taken as Hurricane Hanna passed over Texas this weekend. It was taken in June and shows heavy winds knocking down sections of border wall in New Mexico. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is not aware of any border wall panels falling over due to Hurricane Hanna hitting the Rio Grande Valley Sector this past weekend,” reads a statement emailed to the AP by agency spokesperson Roderick Kise. “The video circulating on social media appears to be from June 2020 when high winds caused several border wall panels that were pending additional anchoring to fall over at a construction site near Deming, New Mexico.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the ongoing wall construction south of Deming, including the section of wall featured in the video. Raini Brunson, a Corps spokesperson, confirmed the details about the video, but had no information about who filmed the footage. “The incident involving the unexpected high wind gust, which knocked over the barrier panels, occurred on June 5th,” Brunson wrote in an email.
CLAIM: Project Veritas captures President Donald Trump on video bashing his supporters.
THE FACTS: A video that circulated on social media, purportedly from conservative website Project Veritas, supposedly catches Trump on a live microphone criticizing his supporters. In fact, a parody account created and released the video, not Project Veritas, which is known for using undercover tactics to reveal supposed liberal bias in the media. The audio featured in the parody clip belongs to comedian JL Cauvin, who confirmed to the AP that it’s his audio from an episode of Cauvin’s podcast “Making Podcasts Great Again,” where he impersonates Trump. But the video fooled many on social media who shared it as real. “WATCH THIS!!!! Trump was caught on a hot mic talking bad about his own supporters,” one Twitter user posted. The false post was retweeted over 3,000 times. In the parody video, Trump is supposedly heard making crude remarks about his supporters, saying, among other things: “I have to say be a patriot. That’s motivating some of these animals—ok—the people I call ‘The Hills have Eyes’ people.” The edited video paired Cauvin’s audio with footage that shows Trump wearing a mask and touring a FUJIFILM facility in North Carolina on July 27. Media outlets were present and filmed the event. Cauvin made the remarks in an episode of his podcast. “I think the video legitimately fooled people,” Cauvin wrote to the AP in an email. He said the video was created by “a fan of the show.” The parody video has text along the bottom to make it look like it’s from Project Veritas. The video was taken during a visit by Trump to the FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Innovation Center in Morrisville, a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina, The facility has begun production of the first batch of a possible vaccine developed by Novavax, a Maryland company.
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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