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:
Fake vaccine quote circulates after Betty White’s death
CLAIM: Betty White told a news outlet she received a COVID-19 vaccine booster on Dec. 28, three days before her death, saying: “Eat healthy and get all your vaccines. I just got boosted today.”
THE FACTS: The quote is fabricated. White did not receive a booster that day, her agent confirmed to The Associated Press. The news article cited by social media users does not contain the bogus quote or anything about vaccines. Days after Betty White’s death at the age of 99 was confirmed on Dec. 31, social media users falsely claimed “The Golden Girls” star had received a COVID-19 vaccine booster on Dec. 28, using a bogus quote to suggest her death may have been related. Posters on Twitter and Facebook shared an image containing a quote reading, “‘Eat healthy and get all your vaccines. I just got boosted today.’ - Betty White, Dec. 28th, 2021,” alongside a link to an article in Minnesota news outlet Crow River Media, titled, “Betty White: I’m lucky to still be in good health.” One post on Twitter shared the fabricated quote with a caption that reads, “Died 3 days later! Coincidence.” But the article does not include that quote, and archived versions of the story stored by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine also do not mention COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Crow River Media ran an editorial addressing the falsehood in the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review, which they publish.” The story itself is about a Dec. 28 article in People that included quotes from White given “a few weeks” before she passed away. The People article also does not mention boosters. White’s agent, Jeff Witjas, confirmed to the AP that the quote attributed to White is entirely false. “Betty never said this,” Witjas said in an email. Witjas also confirmed that White did not receive a booster on Dec. 28, though he did not comment on whether she received one at all. Witjas said she died peacefully in her sleep of “natural causes.”
— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Sacramento, California, contributed this report.
Labeled swabs in some COVID test kits are for quality control
CLAIM: A photo showing a COVID-19 test kit that includes swabs labeled “positive” and “negative” proves tests are manipulated to give a predetermined result.
THE FACTS: The photo does not prove the tests are being manipulated. The swabs labeled “positive control” and “negative control” are included in test kits for quality control purposes to make sure the tests work properly, a standard for most rapid diagnostic tests. As the COVID-19 variant omicron generates a renewed wave of infections around the world, social media users began recirculating a photo from several months ago to falsely claim that COVID-19 test results are being planned in advance and that tests are unreliable. One recent Instagram post showed a photo of a COVID-19 test kit manufactured by ACON Laboratories, which included test swab packages labeled “positive control swab,” and “negative control swab.” The post added the caption “Picture taken secretly by a nurse on shift. Name not mentioned for obvious reasons.” The same photo has been circulating online since at least spring 2021. However, the positive and negative control swabs are not used on patients, they are used to make sure the test kits work. The swabs in the photo were part of an antigen rapid test first distributed in December 2020 by ACON Laboratories that was marketed for professional use. In this version of the test, a section of the instruction manual labeled “quality control” stated: “These control swabs should be used to ensure that the test cassette and that the test procedure is performed correctly.” William Anderson, a technical support specialist with ACON Laboratories, confirmed to The Associated Press that this is the purpose of the swabs, and said it is “common practice” to include such control samples. ACON’s positive control swab is precoated with a SARS-CoV-2 recombinant antigen, according to the test kit instructions. Recombinant antigens are manufactured artificially in a lab. When the positive control swab is used on the kit, it is supposed to produce a positive result to demonstrate that the test is functioning accurately. Similarly, the negative swab should show a negative result. The controls are often used by sites that perform a high volume of tests, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Loren Williams, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Georgia Tech, said the falsely captioned photos were “misrepresenting normal features” of these diagnostic tests. “For any good assay you need both positive and negative controls,” Williams wrote in an email to the AP. He added: “You cannot believe a negative result if your positive control is not positive. And a negative control ensures that your reagents are not contaminated. If you get a positive result in your negative control, then you generally have a contamination problem.” A similar claim was made on Twitter about swabs found in tests by Abbott Laboratories. The company responded in a statement clarifying that the labeled swabs are to make sure the tests work.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.
Biden didn’t ‘fire’ more than 200 Marines
CLAIM: “Joe Biden fired over 200 marines for refusing to take the COVID vaccine.”
THE FACTS: As of Dec. 30, 206 Marines have been removed from the Marine Corps for refusing to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate — but the removals were made by U.S. Marine Corps leadership, not the president, according to a Marine Corps spokesperson. Disciplinary decisions for armed service members are handled by the respective military services, the Department of Defense confirmed to The Associated Press. As COVID-19 vaccination deadlines for some armed service branches recently passed, social media users spread false claims about which authorities carried out the discipline for those who refused to get the vaccine. The deadline for active-duty Marines to be vaccinated was Nov. 28, and the deadline for reservists to comply was Dec. 28. Shortly after the final deadline, Nick Adams, president of The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness, a conservative civic education organization, tweeted to his more than 223,000 followers: “Joe Biden fired over 200 Marines for refusing to take the COVID vaccine.” But the assertion is incorrect about who is responsible for disciplining troops. Cpt. Andrew R. Wood, a Marine Corps communication strategy officer, confirmed that Corps leadership removed the Marines. Adams’ Dec. 31 tweet was deleted as of early Jan. 6, hours after an inquiry from the AP. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The post echoes similar false claims that social media users shared in October, asserting that Biden had ordered dishonorable discharges for all troops who refused to be vaccinated. A Pentagon official told the AP in October that Biden had not issued any such order, and that the president does not have the authority to make those decisions. The Biden administration did at one point oppose a proposal by the Pentagon to remove dishonorable discharges from the list of disciplinary options that could be used against service members who refuse COVID-19 vaccines. But the administration did not order that such punishments be carried out. In fact, last month the president signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act — the annual bill that sets the DOD’s budget — with a provision that bars dishonorable discharges for service members who refuse the vaccine, the AP reported. The provision specifies they receive at least a general discharge, a less serious option.
— Sophia Tulp
Posts misrepresent movie schedules to push Jan. 6 conspiracy
CLAIM: Only one film is scheduled to play at many major movie theaters nationwide from Jan. 7-8, and this may be related to a Jan. 6 news conference planned by former President Donald Trump.
THE FACTS: The temporary lack of listings in movie theater schedules had nothing to do with any political actions or other conspiracies. The single film — called “The 355” — that was at one point the only movie listed for the second weekend in January on many schedules was the only new movie premiering for most theaters, meaning tickets were open for advance sale. Titles that previously premiered were scheduled in subsequent days, following standard practice among most theaters. Social media users misrepresented the advanced theater schedules to push the baseless theory that they could foreshadow an announcement by Trump on Jan. 6, the anniversary of the violent insurrection in the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. The claims originated on the messaging app Telegram and hinged on the fact that as of last weekend, only one film was listed as showing on Friday, Jan. 7, and Saturday, Jan. 8, across many major markets and theaters. “Something odd is going on in theaters across the nation on Jan. 7 and Jan. 8,” a widely-shared post on Facebook, Telegram and Twitter stated in part, before adding: “Wonder if this has something to do with the press conference Pres. Trump has scheduled for Jan 6?” Trump on Tuesday canceled the press conference. The claims were based on a misunderstanding of how most movie theaters compile and publish their schedules. A spokesperson for Cinemark Theaters told The Associated Press that its showtimes aren’t usually booked for the week until after internal meetings each Monday, leaving the schedule sometimes looking bare until Tuesday. An exception is when theaters allow advance sales for a movie that is set to premiere on a specific date, the spokesperson said. Such was the case with “The 355” — a film starring Jessica Chastain as a CIA agent who joins forces with a rival German agent when a secret weapon falls into the hands of mercenaries. Ryan Noonan, public relations director for AMC Theaters, also said the showtimes reflect normal operations. “As is always the case, the complete showtime schedules at all AMC locations for the week of Jan. 7-13 will fully populate by Wednesday morning,” Noonan wrote on Monday in an email to the AP. Trump had said he planned to hold a news conference on Jan. 6 but later canceled it.
— Sophia Tulp
Posts misrepresent Portugal’s COVID-19 death count
CLAIM: A court in Portugal ruled that only 152 people died of COVID-19 in the country, not 17,000.
THE FACTS: More than 19,000 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported in Portugal, not 152. Social media users are misrepresenting figures from Portugal to make it seem like the country was inflating deaths related to COVID-19. In May, Portugal’s General Directorate for Health was asked how many COVID-19 deaths were confirmed by autopsy. The agency responded to the request stating that 152 death certificates had been recorded at the time by doctors working for the Ministry of Justice, which performs forensic medical autopsies. At the time of the request, the country had recorded 16,945 COVID-19 deaths in total, according to the Ministry of Health. A majority of death certificates in the country are issued by doctors in the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Justice. Autopsies performed by the Justice Ministry take place when there is a violent death or an unknown cause, according to the agency. Autopsies are not performed on most deaths related to COVID-19. “In other words, forensic medical autopsies aim, namely, to support criminal investigations, and are not, as a rule, carried out in situations of natural death by COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement. As a result, the number being circulated online did not reflect total deaths in the country, nor did it prove that health officials were increasing Portugal’s COVID-19 death count. According to the Health Ministry’s daily report for Jan. 5, Portugal had recorded a total of 19,029 COVID-19 deaths. False claims about the number of COVID-19 deaths in Portugal circulated in July and resurfaced this week as the omicron variant surges around the globe. One post sharing the false claim was retweeted on Twitter about 9,000 times.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
Nuremberg Code says nothing about mask mandates
CLAIM: The Nuremberg Code explicitly states that mask mandates are a war crime.
THE FACTS: The Nuremberg Code, a set of research ethics created after World War II in response to atrocities perpetrated by Nazi scientists, does not discuss mask mandates. Text circulating online that is said to show details in the code about masks is bogus. Posts claiming that the Nuremberg Code classifies mask mandates as war crimes have circulated widely on social media alongside an image purportedly showing text from “Article 6: Section 3” of the code. Part of the text in the image states, “Leaders should be aware that mandating masks on the citizens of a nation and preventing their access to food, healthcare, transport or education if they don’t comply, is a war crime. Masks or any other medical intervention must remain voluntary.” But the Nuremberg Code contains no such information. The code doesn’t mention masks or mask mandates. The sixth principle of the real code asserts that an experiment’s “degree of risk” should “never exceed” the “humanitarian importance of the problem” that the experiment aims to solve. Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, told The Associated Press that the Nuremberg Code doesn’t include “anything like” the text in the image. “From start to bottom, this is made up,” she said. “The essence of the code is to prohibit experiments on human subjects without informed consent. Mask mandates are not experiments. The people who are subject to them are not human subjects.” “The code is in no way, shape or form relevant to mask mandates,” Reiss added. The Nuremberg Code originated at a military tribunal that occurred in Nuremberg, Germany, following World War II where Nazi officials were prosecuted. Physicians who conducted harrowing experiments on concentration camp inmates were among the defendants. The code was drafted in 1947 in response to the scientists’ crimes and remains influential in medical ethics. The AP previously reported on different online posts that claimed Germany’s restrictions for unvaccinated people violate the Nuremberg Code. Medical ethics and legal experts told the AP that these claims are false.
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.
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