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

March 5, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2020, file photo, faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church in Miami. On Friday, March 5, 2021, The Associated Press reported on a manipulated version of this photo circulating online depicting the people praying over a golden idol of former President Donald Trump. While numerous attendees of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, posed for selfies with a 6-foot-tall golden statue of Trump, the original photo was made over a year earlier. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2020, file photo, faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church in Miami. On Friday, March 5, 2021, The Associated Press reported on a manipulated version of this photo circulating online depicting the people praying over a golden idol of former President Donald Trump. While numerous attendees of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, posed for selfies with a 6-foot-tall golden statue of Trump, the original photo was made over a year earlier. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

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:


No evidence Pelosi invested $1.5 million in ‘foreign oil stock’

CLAIM: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bought $1.5 million in “foreign oil stock” before President Joe Biden halted the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

THE FACTS: A post that circulated on Facebook falsely claimed Pelosi had bought foreign oil stock a day before President Joe Biden signed a Jan. 20 executive order revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) pipeline was planned to carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. “Well WELL WELL. PELOSI buys 1.5 m in foreign oil stock day before shutdown of american line…” said a post with the erroneous information, falsely suggesting Pelosi committed insider trading. In fact, there is no record Pelosi bought significant stock shares recently. The House Speaker filed a Periodic Transaction Report on Jan. 21, 2021, which disclosed stock shares or call options made by her husband, Paul Pelosi. There are no oil companies listed on the form. Paul Pelosi invested in four companies: AllianceBernstein, Apple, Tesla and Disney, according to the form. Periodic Transaction Reports must be filed no later than 45 days after a member of Congress or their spouse or child makes a transaction greater than $1,000 and within 30 days of the member receiving notification that the transaction occurred. Henry V. Connelly, a spokesperson for Pelosi, told the AP in an email that the information in the claim is false. Members of the House are allowed to buy and sell stocks but are barred from using private information from their jobs to inform investment decisions, the STOCK Act of 2012 states.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.


Biden did answer questions from House Democrats at virtual event

CLAIM: The White House cut President Joe Biden’s feed at a virtual event with top House Democrats because they did not have confidence in him answering questions.

THE FACTS: Posts online are falsely suggesting that a video clip of Biden’s introductory remarks at the House Democratic Caucus Virtual Issues Conference shows that the White House is limiting the president’s talking time. The 15-second clip was taken from comments Biden made praising Democratic leaders for their support and addressed the need to tackle issues related to racial injustice, confidence in the American government and the climate. During the conference, Biden praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Conservative accounts shared the clip of Biden with captions meant to further propel a narrative pushed during the election that he is unfit for office. “The White House doesn’t even have enough confidence in Joe Biden to answer questions? Wow,” Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative student group, tweeted. “BIDEN APPEARS TO BE NOTHING MORE THAN A PUPPET PRESIDENT,” another post said. In the clip, viewed more than 1.6 million times on Twitter, Biden says he would be happy to take questions. “And I’m happy to take questions if that’s what you — I’m supposed to do, Nance,” he says before the feed ends. “Whatever you want me to do.” The video feed of Biden then ends. But comments circulating with the clip misrepresent what was behind the cut. On Wednesday, pool reporters were allowed to attend the introductory remarks made by Biden, but the session was then closed to the press for the president to take questions from House Democrats. The AP confirmed that Biden did take questions from House Democrats including one on systemic racism and another on the child tax credit.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.


Left-wing protesters didn’t ‘storm’ Georgia Capitol

CLAIM: Video shows left-wing protesters storming Georgia’s Capitol building in Atlanta or engaging in an insurrection over a bill that would require photo ID for absentee voting.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that protests at Georgia’s state Capitol on Feb. 26 amounted to a storming of the Capitol or an insurrection. Yet a video clip of the protest circulated widely on social media this week with claims exaggerating what happened. The 45-second clip showed a Georgia state trooper using a bullhorn to instruct protesters to disperse, citing a state law that allows arrests for disruptive protests at the Capitol. As the officer was speaking, Democratic Georgia Rep. Park Cannon approached him and put her ear up to the bullhorn, blocking it. Another officer moved her away by the arm, telling her to “step aside.” Cannon then engaged in an argument with the officers. Social media users on Monday likened the protest in the video to the violent siege of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, which resulted in five deaths and hundreds of arrests. “Leftists STORM Georgia Capitol In Response to ID Required for Absentee Ballots,” conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza wrote in a headline alongside the video on the video-sharing website Rumble. Others on Twitter called the protest in the video an “insurrection” in tweets shared thousands of times. However, the Georgia Department of Public Safety confirmed to the AP that the protesters entered the state Capitol lawfully and remained peaceful, unlike the rioters in the violent Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington. “No one was arrested,” spokesperson Franka Young wrote. “The protesters were asked to disperse and they left peacefully on their own.” According to AP reporting, the Feb. 26 protest began after Democrats were not given a chance to speak on the House floor against House Bill 531, which would make multiple changes to restrict voting, including requiring photo ID to cast absentee ballots. During a lunch break, protesters gathered in the atrium of the Capitol. When Cannon put her ear up to a state trooper’s bullhorn, another trooper asked her to step aside. Cannon demanded a public apology from the officer and began shouting complaints that quickly evolved into an attack on the voting bills. Cannon then sat down and a group of more than a dozen Democrats, mostly House members, joined her. They remained on the steps for two hours, eating lunch, taking pictures, sending social media messages and leaving an aisle open for traffic. On Monday, the Georgia House passed House Bill 531, sending it to the Senate for further debate. Civil rights groups gathered at the Capitol to protest. As with the Feb. 26 protest, those who gathered on Monday entered the Capitol lawfully and were nonviolent, Young said.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Seattle contributed this report.


Vaccines are needed to end the pandemic, prevent serious illness

CLAIM: There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic and people who aren’t at risk from the disease should not be vaccinated.

THE FACTS: A misleading quote by Michael Yeadon, a retired British doctor who previously worked for Pfizer, found new life on Facebook this week, circulating on a widely shared post. The quote was taken from an op-ed Yeadon wrote in a U.K.-based blog in October that made false claims while arguing against government restrictions for the coronavirus. The post, which was shared over 5,000 times, falsely states: “There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic. I’ve never heard such nonsense talks about vaccines. You do not vaccinate people who aren’t at risk from a disease. You also don’t set about planning to vaccinate millions of fit and healthy people with a vaccine that hasn’t been extensively tested on human subjects.” The quote almost perfectly matches a passage from Yeadon’s op-ed, though the post misidentifies him as a former vice president and chief scientist at Pfizer, when in fact he was a former vice president and chief scientist of Pfizer’s allergy and respiratory research. David Hamer, professor of global health and medicine at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, told The Associated Press in a call that aggressive vaccination — even with populations who may not appear to be at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 — is critical to decreasing circulation of the virus. Hamer said that the reality is we can’t tell who among seemingly healthy people is at risk for getting sick from COVID-19, how severe the case will be or whether it will lead to long-term illness. “This pandemic is far from over,” Hamer said. “There’s still large populations that are not immune, so the risk of continued transmission remains.” Hamer said that historically vaccines have been used for viral infections for people that “may not have been at risk or may have been at low risk,” like for measles, mumps and rubella. “Not immunizing a portion of the population means that you have that population serving as a sort of a pool for continued transmission.” Viruses can mutate when they infect people, making reinfection more likely, Hamer said. “Having a lot of virus circulating gives the virus more opportunities to mutate and to be able to basically change enough that reinfection is more feasible,” Hamer explained. That is why medical experts say it is critical to vaccinate the population as quickly as possible before further mutations develop and spread. Around the world, health officials are trying to vaccinate enough people to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to achieve “ herd immunity,” where enough people have immunity, either from past infection or vaccine, to stop the uncontrolled spread. Many experts say that the threshold for herd immunity is 70% or higher. Yeadon left Pfizer nine years ago when the company phased out some of its research and development activities in Sandwich, the town in southeast England where he worked, the AP reported. Yeadon does not speak for the company and was not working for Pfizer when the company was developing its vaccine for COVID-19. Yeadon did not respond to a request for comment.

— Arijeta Lajka


Video makes false claims about Morgellons disease and COVID-19 tests

CLAIM: Nasal swabs used for COVID-19 tests contain Morgellons disease fibers that are being put in your brain when you are tested for the virus.

THE FACTS: Since the pandemic was declared last year, posts online have falsely speculated that COVID-19 tests are being used to inject Americans with microchips, nanoparticles and now disease “fibers” into the brain. A recent TikTok video making the false claim was viewed more than 1.7 million times and liked more than 120,000 times. In the TikTok post, a woman plays a video on her computer screen that was first shared on Facebook in January. The woman claims the video shows a nurse who took apart a swab used in COVID-19 tests and found that the fibers were moving on their own because they were fibers from Morgellons disease. Morgellons sufferers say the condition appears as a crawling sensation on their skin or skin sores with fibers. She goes on to say that people administering COVID-19 tests are putting Morgellons fibers on patients’ brains. “They are not going to want you to see this,” she says after the video plays. But the claims in the video are false. The claim that the fibers from the COVID-19 test swab appear to be moving are undermined by the fact that the entire video shakes, suggesting the camera was moving. The swabs shown in the video are CLASSIQSwabs, which contain rayon, polyester and cotton. There is no evidence of disease particles in those swabs, nor is there COVID research that indicates there is any truth to this video, said Neysa Ernst, nurse manager in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “This video is a fake,” said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, fellow and spokesperson for the Infection Diseases Society of America. Furthermore, the video makes false claims about Morgellons disease, which some medical studies have shown is an unproven condition. Glatt described the condition as a neuropsychiatric disorder because patients are suffering symptoms that have no cause. “There is no proof to it whatsoever that it is caused by an infectious disease,” Glatt said about Morgellons disease. “It is not a disease by an organism or anything that is moving.” Dr. Stephen R. Feldman, professor of dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said of the video: “Nothing makes any scientific sense about what they are suggesting.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a four-year study that found that Morgellons disease is similar to delusional infestation, where people believe their body is infested with organisms. Delusional infestation is often treated with therapy. Laboratory analysis of the fibers found from people complaining of Morgellons disease were determined to be from cotton.

— Beatrice Dupuy


Photo of people praying over golden Trump statue is fabricated

CLAIM: Photo shows six people praying over a golden idol of former President Donald Trump.

THE FACTS: While numerous attendees of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, posed for selfies with a 6-foot-tall golden statue of Trump, a viral photo of faith leaders praying over the statue was fabricated. Social media users on Monday were widely sharing the faked image, presenting it as alleged evidence that some Trump supporters had an extreme, cult-like devotion to the former president. “This is literally the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen and we should be very, very, VERY concerned,” read one Facebook post with the image. “Literally praying before a false idol,” another Facebook user wrote. However, a reverse-image search reveals that the image was created from a photo of faith leaders and pastor Paula White praying over President Donald Trump during an “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign event in Miami in January 2020. The fake image replaced Trump in the photo with the statue of his likeness, which is real and appeared at CPAC over the weekend. According to the website of the artist, Tommy Zegan, it is a “humorous caricature” of the former president titled “We the People,” or “Trump and His Magic Wand.” Zegan did not respond to a request for comment. Although this photo was fake, a video showing a man kneeling before the statue at CPAC was real.

— Ali Swenson


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