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Social media posts misrepresent reason for blurred presidential seal

November 17, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Vice President Kamala Harris’ Twitter account blurred the presidential seal on President Joe Biden’s desk in a recent post because Biden isn’t really the president.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Harris’ personal Twitter account shared a video first posted by the Democratic National Committee, which blurred the seal to avoid conflicting with a federal statute that limits how individuals can use the seal, according to a DNC spokesperson. Official White House channels, such as the vice president’s official Twitter account, frequently post imagesand videos of the seal unobstructed.

THE FACTS: After Biden signed the $1 trillion “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” into law on Monday, the vice president posted about it on Twitter, sharing footage of the outdoor signing ceremony in a Tuesday tweet.

In the clip shared by the DNC’s Twitter account and reposted by Harris’ personal Twitter account, the presidential seal on Biden’s desk appeared to be intentionally blurred.

The post quickly fueled a flurry of conspiracy theories on social media, with numerous Twitter users falsely claiming the blurred seal must mean Biden is not the legitimate U.S. president.

“Was the presidential seal blurred out today because he’s not the real president?” one Twitter user speculated.

“The Presidential Seal is blurred out because Trump owns the copyright,” another user wrote.

However, these claims misrepresent the real reason the DNC blurred the seal. It did so to respect a federal statute that says the presidential seal can only be used for official government business, according to DNC Deputy Communications Director Daniel Wessel.

According to U.S. Code § 713, anyone who displays the presidential seal “along with an “advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof,” can be subject to a fine or short-term imprisonment.

Though legal experts disagree on the boundaries of appropriate use in accordance with the law, it’s become common practice for candidates and political parties to blur the presidential seal in campaign-related posts and on campaign accounts, according to Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.

“It’s generally standard for political parties to try and stay on the right side of the law,” Libowitz said.

The DNC has blurred the presidential seal in other recent Twitter posts, including in a video on Nov. 6 that Biden’s personal Twitter account re-shared.

Former President Donald Trump also has shared videos with the seal blurred when using the posts for campaign purposes. The Trump Organization faced criticism in 2018 when replicas of the seal were displayed at one of its golf courses, violating federal law. The club removed the replicas and explained they had been given to the club by members.

Some social media users sharing Harris’ post also pointed to a woman seen clapping behind Biden in the video. Hundreds of Twitter users falsely claimed the woman’s rapidly moving hands appeared to go “through” Biden’s face.

The Associated Press closely reviewed multiple versions of the video and found no such glitch or oddity. While Harris’ clapping hands in the video cast a shadow on the front of Biden’s face, the woman behind him remained behind him for the entire clip.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.