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:
CLAIM: President Donald Trump’s campaign sent an email asking supporters to donate as he recovers from COVID-19.
THE FACTS: Posts with the fundraising appeal circulated on social media after Trump tweeted early Friday that he and wife, Melania, had tested positive for COVID-19. The letter had a Trump-Pence logo similar to that used by the campaign. But the message was fabricated, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh confirmed to the AP. “It’s fake and should not be taken seriously,” Murtaugh said in an email. The fake fundraising appeal reads: “Friends, By now you have heard the news. President Trump and the First Lady has tested positive for the China Virus. The next few weeks will be difficult for Americans from all across the nation and we ask for your thoughts and prayers. He appreciates your unwavering support during this time and wants you to know that it has not gone unnoticed. President Trump would like to ask a favor. Will you please DONATE to help him recover from this disease? It is only fair since he has sacrificed millions of dollars to serve as your President. Help us reach our goal of 421 million to ensure our President will recover to serve another 4 years! He is fighting for all of us.” Several social media users posted the fabricated letter, believing it was authentic. “This is sinister and insulting. #TrumpCovid,” one Twitter user posted along with a screenshot of the false message. Later, the user posted a tweet with a correction. Another Twitter user wrote, “If anyone accuses Democrats of playing politics today with the President’s health remind them it took the Trump campaign about an hour to put out a fundraising email seeking donations based on the President contracting the virus.” The post had over 3,000 retweets. The White House said Friday that President Donald Trump was suffering “mild symptoms” of COVID-19, the AP reported. He was described as being in good spirits and working in the family quarters though the announcement of his illness threw the country deeper into uncertainty just a month before the presidential election.
Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka reported from New York.
Biden did not wear a wire during the presidential debate
CLAIM: Video footage and photos from the presidential debate show that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was wearing a wire.
THE FACTS: The images viewed up close and from different angles show a crease in Biden’s shirt and rosary beads that he wears to honor his late son. On Tuesday night, posts circulated on social media with low quality footage from the debate falsely suggesting that the former vice president wore a wire under his jacket. The 14-second clip was widely shared across social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok. The grainy video was viewed more than 2 million times on Twitter and more than 290,000 times on Facebook by Wednesday morning. The video was promoted by pro-Trump and conservative-leaning pages and groups on Facebook and trended on Twitter with the hashtag #JoeWired, with more than 60,000 tweets. “I REST MY CASE! Biden is WEARING a WIRE in the FIRST 2020 debate,” one post on Facebook said. Several recordings from multiple media outlets show a clearer view of the moment where Biden adjusts his suit jacket, revealing a crease on his shirt, not a wire. While some posts zoomed in on Biden’s shirt near his lapel to make the false claim, others used photos or videos that captured something sticking out from under his shirt cuff. In fact, Biden was wearing his late son Beau’s rosary beads on his wrist. Photos and video from the debate show the rosary peeking out of his cuff. Biden’s campaign confirmed to The Associated Press that the Democratic presidential candidate wore the rosary last night at the debate. “I have not taken off the rosary Beau was wearing when he passed since then but it’s my connection with him,” Biden said in a 2017 interview with Megyn Kelly on “Today.” In recent weeks, posts online have circulated falsely claiming that Biden is using a teleprompter to be fed information during interviews and town halls to paint the picture that Biden is unfit for office.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy reported from New York.
Judge did not order Wisconsin to finish counting ballots on election night
CLAIM: A federal judge ordered Wisconsin must have all ballots counted by 8 p.m. on the day of the election.
THE FACTS: Federal courts are weighing in on the deadline by which Wisconsin absentee ballots must be received — not how fast election officials must tally results. First, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled on Sept. 21 that absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day could be counted in that state as long as they arrive up to six days after the election. Then on Sept. 27, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a stay, which put that earlier ruling on hold. That meant ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. Two days later, on Sept. 29, a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the Sept. 21 deadline extension. Social media users distorted news about the Sept. 27 ruling by claiming a judge had imposed that deadline on election officials to tally votes. “Boom; A federal judge just ordered Wisconsin must have all ballots counted by 8 pm on the day of the election,” reads a post that was shared more than 1,800 times on Facebook. But that is incorrect. The ruling did not pertain to how quickly officials must tally the votes. Given the ongoing litigation in this matter, Wisconsin voters should be sure to check the latest rules when submitting their absentee ballots. Voters can also refer to AP’s state-by-state interactive detailing how to vote in this election.
— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block reported from Phoenix.
Photo shows mail from 2018, not discarded Trump ballots
CLAIM: A photo of mail bins and envelopes on the side of the road shows discarded Trump ballots found in states such as California, Texas and Pennsylvania.
THE FACTS: The photo does not show ballots with votes for President Donald Trump. It shows mail bins and envelopes abandoned by a mail carrier in New Jersey who quit in 2018. Still, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users this week shared a photo of plastic mail bins and envelopes piled on the side of the road as alleged proof of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. “Boy oh boy, there finding thrown away Trump ballets everywhere now, California, Texas, n Pennsylvania,” read a Sunday tweet shared more than 12,000 times. “How does the USPO explain this??” Similar posts on Facebook and Instagram also received thousands of likes and shares. However, a reverse-image search revealed the photo does not show abandoned Trump ballots. Instead, the two-year-old photo shows mail left by a mail carrier in New Jersey in 2018. The mail was scheduled for delivery on Aug. 8, 2018, and the carrier resigned a month later, according to local news reports at the time. When the mail was discovered in October 2018, Pennsylvania’s Roxborough Station Post Office planned to send it out for redelivery, according to a statement at the time from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General. The claims circulating this week about trashed ballots come as Trump and others have argued without evidence that a nationwide increase in mail-in voting means a higher potential for voter fraud. The Associated Press has debunked a range of false claims on the topic, and experts say voter fraud is exceedingly rare. Mail-in ballots are subject to the same level of scrutiny as absentee ballots, which Trump supports.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson reported from Seattle.
Massachusetts primary ballots were not destroyed
CLAIM: Massachusetts destroyed over 1 million primary ballots and committed election fraud. Ballot images that must be saved for 22 months are nowhere to be found.
THE FACTS: No physical Senate ballots have been destroyed in Massachusetts, according to Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin. A federal statute requires election officials to preserve ballots from federal races for 22 months. “The ballots, as required by law, are still under seal in each of the 351 local election offices,” O’Malley told The Associated Press. Yet Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, who lost in the Massachusetts Republican Senate primary earlier this month, is making the misleading claim that the state committed election fraud by destroying over 1 million ballots. In a tweet that was picked up by the right-wing site The Gateway Pundit and has been shared on Facebook, he wrote, “Massachusetts Destroys Over 1 MILLION Ballots in US SENATE PRIMARY RACE committing #ElectionFraud. MA Elections Attorney confirms to #Shiva4Senate ballot images - used for counting votes - that MUST be saved by FEDERAL LAW for 22 months are nowhere to be found!” O’Malley called Ayyadurai’s tweet election misinformation. In an email exchange with the AP, Ayyadurai did not dispute that election officials have preserved physical ballots. He argues state election officials acted improperly by not preserving ballot images when the ballots were counted and scanned -- and that ballot images should be considered “ballots.” It is true that Massachusetts does not capture and preserve ballot images, but federal law does not require it, according to Charles Stewart, an elections expert and political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Newer generations of scanners are capable of capturing ballot images or a similar thing, called the cast-vote record,” Stewart wrote in an e-mail. “Neither is addressed in federal law. Very few states make these available to the public, even when they have been captured by the scanning equipment. One can disagree with this as a policy choice, but there’s nothing illegal, or even uncommon, about it.” In the Sept. 1 Republican Senate primary, Ayyadurai lost to Kevin J. O’Connor. He is now running in the general election as a write-in candidate for the Senate.
— Jude Joffe-Block
Video that shows tracking device in mask created as satire
CLAIM: Video shows a tracking device in a blue disposable face mask from China.
THE FACTS: Dimitris Ververelis, who lives in Greece, told The Associated Press that he created and posted the video on Sept. 14 as a joke. Ververelis shared the video on Facebook with a caption written in Greek, “See it before they download it.” The video shows an iPhone being run across a blue face mask to scan it. It then appears to receive the geolocation of the phone. A person then examines the mask, pulls out an NFC chip from inside of the mask. NFC is a set of wireless technologies that supports communication between devices. Two days later, he edited the post to clarify that it was supposed to be a joke: “Of course this is trolling! The chip is a common NFC that we put on the mask for the video….” Still, the video circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube last week. “How many folks around the world ordered this type of #mask from #China? Billions? Or, how many had these #TrackingChips in them? And why? So now we all have to rip the damn things half up to search for a hidden ‘chip’ before we can put them on...which defeats the purpose,” a Twitter user said, sharing the satirical post as real. Ververelis said he was sad people continued to circulate the video as though it was real. “To tell you the truth I considered many times to remove it,” he said.
— Arijeta Lajka
Jared Kushner didn’t delete all his tweets after Trump tax story
CLAIM: President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, deleted all his tweets after The New York Times published a story on Trump’s tax returns on Sunday.
THE FACTS: On Sunday, in the hours after The New York Times published a story with findings from nearly two decades of Trump’s tax returns, false information about a close Trump ally began spreading on social media. “Shoutout to Jared Kushner who deleted all of his tweets after the tax story broke,” read one Facebook post viewed more than 89,000 times. “Genius.” Kushner’s Twitter account is empty — but that’s because he rarely tweets, not because he deleted posts. The most recently available archived version of Kushner’s profile shows he also had zero tweets on Sept. 25, two days before the tax story broke. Kushner’s account was created in 2009. Many archived versions saved since then show zero tweets on his account over the years. One archived version in 2014 shows two tweets, which were deleted by at least October 2016. The false claim that Kushner has deleted all his tweets in the wake of news stories has come up before, including in 2017, when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted on charges associated with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
— Ali Swenson
Photo does not show Fox News host with Jeffrey Epstein
CLAIM: Photo shows Fox’s Chris Wallace with Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls over the years, on his private island in the Caribbean.
THE FACTS: The photo shows Wallace, who moderated the presidential debate Tuesday, on a boat dock with actor George Clooney in Italy. Social media users shared the misrepresented photo of Wallace and Clooney following the debate. Wallace was criticized by Trump supporters who claimed his questions were biased toward Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The photo shows Wallace with actor George Clooney during an August 2012 visit at the actor’s home in Lake Como, Italy. Politico used photos from the visit during an August 17, 2012, interview with Wallace about the vacation. “Yes, I was fortunate enough to be invited,” Wallace said in the interview. “It was great. Everything you could imagine it could be.” Social media posts containing the false claim were promoted by QAnon supporters who believe in the baseless conspiracy that President Donald Trump is fighting against the “deep state” and sex trafficking. The false claim was shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “Chris Wallace with Epstein, now I get it,” said one post on Facebook with more than 4,000 shares. Epstein committed suicide in August 2019, while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
— Beatrice Dupuy
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