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


FILE – In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, an election judge checks in a voter at the La Familia Recreation Center in the Baker neighborhood south of downtown Denver. On Friday, April 9, 2021, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting Major League Baseball had moved the All-Star game to Colorado because Georgia now requires an ID to vote, and yet Colorado also requires voter ID. But Colorado does not require an identification card to vote. Furthermore, Georgia already had a voter photo ID requirement, new sweeping rules include ID requirements to apply for a mailed ballot. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


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:


New Georgia voting law is far stricter than that in Colorado CLAIM: Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game to Colorado because Georgia now requires voter ID, but Colorado has the same requirement.

THE FACTS: Colorado does not require a photo identification card to vote, while Georgia’s new law requires voters to use such IDs to request vote-by-mail ballots and existing state law requires them for voting in person. Furthermore, Georgia’s newly passed voting rules that caused a backlash among critics are more sweeping than just ID requirements. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a 98-page measure into law on March 25 that rewrote Georgia election rules. Critics say the new law is too restrictive and will lead to voter disenfranchisement. They highlighted a provision that make it a misdemeanor to hand out water or food to anyone waiting in line to vote within 150 feet of the polling place and within 25 feet of anyone in line. The new law requires voters applying to receive a mailed ballot to include a driver’s license or state-issued ID number in their application, and then write that number on the envelope when they mail back their ballots. The law, which also gives the Republican-controlled legislature more authority over local election administration, follows former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud occurred in Georgia and other states he lost in the November election. After the law passed, Major League Baseball released a statement on April 2 saying it would no longer hold its All-Star game in Truist Park in Atlanta because the organization “fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.” MLB announced Tuesday that the new location for the game would be Denver’s Coors Field. Social media users compared voter laws in the two states to falsely claim that Colorado’s laws are not that different from Georgia’s. One tweet that was widely shared on Twitter and Facebook spread the falsehood that the states have the same voter ID requirements, proving that the move was foolish. “Soooo! MLB moved the All-Star game from Georgia because of voter ID requirements, to Colorado WHICH ALREADY HAS VOTER ID!!” one Facebook post said. Despite what the posts online say, Colorado, a Democratic-controlled state, has less restrictive voting rules than Georgia. The state does not require voters to show photo identification to vote, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said 94% of Colorado’s voters cast their ballots by mail in November since the state sends all registered voters mailed ballots automatically. “The simple fact is Colorado is one of the easiest states to vote in and also has the highest election integrity of any state in the country,” Becker said. When voters choose to cast ballots in person, the state accepts many forms of identification that prove a voter’s name and address, including a current copy of a utility bill, paycheck or bank statement. Voters who use a mailed ballot for the first time may also be asked to send in a photocopy of one of those documents.

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


Masks remain mandatory in Ohio

CLAIM: Masks are no longer mandatory in Ohio, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine isn’t saying a word about it.

THE FACTS: Masks remain mandatory in Ohio in indoor spaces as well as outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Ohio rescinded its previous coronavirus health guidelines, including its facial covering requirement, on April 5 . Social media users posted the order from the Ohio Department of Health with false claims it means masks are no longer required in the Buckeye State. “Just a PSA — Masks are no longer mandatory in OHIO & Dewine isn’t saying a word about it,” one Facebook user wrote in a Wednesday post viewed more than 20,000 times. The social posts failed to mention that the previous orders were rescinded as part of a larger move by state officials to update and consolidate pandemic restrictions to make them simpler. A new order issued the same day — April 5 — requires individuals across the state to wear a facial covering at all times when in an indoor location that is not a residence, when outdoors without 6 feet of social distancing from others, and while using public transit, taxis, car services or ride-hailing services. The order also outlines several exemptions to the mask requirement, including children under 10, people with certain health conditions and people actively engaged in exercise in a gym or athletic competition. “Everyone should wear a mask when engaging with others outside their household,” the order reads.

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


The U.S. government has no plans to require ‘vaccine passports’

CLAIM: The federal government wants to require Americans to present a health passport or vaccine certificate “on demand,” including for domestic travel.

THE FACTS: The U.S. government has no plans to require so-called vaccine passports to travel domestically, or for any other purpose. While private businesses are considering vaccine passports for certain activities, Biden administration officials have said the federal government will not mandate vaccine passports. A vaccine passport is documentation that shows a person has been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or recently tested negative. The information will be in the form of a scannable code that can be stored on a smartphone or printed out. During a press conference on Tuesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration is “not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.” But posts circulating on social media are falsely implying that vaccine passports will be mandatory in the U.S., including for domestic travel. “President Biden and the Democrats want to force Americans to present a ‘vaccine passport’ upon demand, yet they oppose presenting an ID to cast a vote,” reads a tweet by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. A Facebook post claims: “So, now, I will need a Health Passport to travel IN America, but Illegals don’t need any kind of Passport to enter INTO America!” Such claims are “patently false,” according to Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor, and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “There are no plans in the US to introduce a vaccine passport for domestic travel,” Gostin said to the AP in an email. “Neither the government nor the US airline industry have announced any plans for requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of interstate travel.” Gostin explained that foreign carriers were discussing a voluntary COVID vaccine passport system, but it did not include U.S. carriers yet. In the U.S., only one state has rolled out a vaccine passport. New York introduced an app through a limited government partnership with a private company. People can show proof of vaccination or a negative test with an app to enter places like entertainment venues. Lawmakers in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania, are trying to ban vaccine passports. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also issued an executive order banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof they got the shot. The Facebook post’s claim that people without legal status in the U.S. are allowed to enter without documentation is also misleading. Those trying to enter the U.S. must show proof they are an American citizen or documents showing they have permission to enter the country, otherwise they are placed in expedited removal proceedings and face deportation. The law does allow those without documents who have a credible fear of returning to their home country to enter and apply for asylum.

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


False posts claim Biden suffered Easter health emergency at White House

CLAIM: President Joe Biden needed a special medical team at the White House and was taken to the hospital late Sunday.

THE FACTS: Biden was not at the White House on Easter Sunday; he celebrated the holiday at Camp David. Social media users shared a 2019 video clip of White House reporters and falsely claimed that the press was “scrambling” to cover Biden being admitted to the hospital. While Biden was with his family at Camp David, a presidential retreat in Maryland, social media users posted baseless claims suggesting that he had received medical attention at the White House and had been hospitalized Sunday night. Some social media users shared a video clip of what appeared to be reporters running on White House grounds to attend a press conference, but the video was filmed during the Trump administration. Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford shot the original video and shared it on Instagram on January 9, 2019. “Then a tail of two press conferences where we hear President Trump walked out of shutdown negotiations after Democrats rejected wall money,” the Instagram story’s caption stated. Early Monday, an Instagram user shared a post containing the 2019 video and falsely claimed that “a special medical team reportedly entered the White House” and that there was a “news team on the way to the White House.” The video was also shared on Twitter with the same false claims. Biden returned to Washington via Marine One around noon on Monday, according to reporting by The Associated Press, and appeared with the first lady and a masked Easter Bunny. Biden spoke about the holiday and how the virus is still a part of people’s lives. The AP reached out to the White House, which declined to comment.

— Arijeta Lajka


CLAIM: Doctors in Russia violated a World Health Organization rule by performing autopsies on deceased COVID-19 patients. They determined the illness is caused by bacteria — not a virus — and can be treated with antibiotics and aspirin.

THE FACTS: Popular posts on Instagram made multiple false claims about the coronavirus and autopsies of COVID-19 patients. WHO does not prohibit COVID-19 autopsies, which have been performed since the early months of the pandemic. “Russia is the first country in the world to dissect Covid-19 corpses, and after a thorough investigation, it was determined that COVID-does NOT EXIST AS A VIRUS,” reads the erroneous post. The post’s caption further claims that “Doctors in Russia are violating the World Health Organization (WHO) law that does not allow autopsies of people with Covid-19,” which is also false. The WHO does not discourage autopsies of deceased COVID-19 patients. In fact, the organization issued guidance on how to handle such autopsies in March 2020. The first published full autopsy of a deceased COVID-19 patient with photographs appeared in a Chinese journal in February 2020, according to a German study of COVID-19 autopsies. In December, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that autopsies in Russia are routinely performed when people die of the disease. “We have autopsies in 100 percent of cases, except some exclusions for religious reasons. But in case of infectious diseases, and the coronavirus is considered a highly dangerous infectious disease, we have autopsies in 100 percent of cases,” she said, according to the Russian state news agency Tass. Multiple Instagram posts falsely claimed that the cause of COVID-19 is not a virus, “but rather bacteria that cause death and lead to the formation of blood clots in the veins and nerves, from which the patient dies because of these bacteria.” Scientists have identified SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus, as the virus that causes COVID-19. WHO officials in China were first informed about the virus in December 2019, and the virus was isolated on Jan. 7 by Chinese authorities, The Associated Press reported.

— Arijeta Lajka


French police tossed cuffs in protest, but not for lockdowns

CLAIM: Video shows French police symbolically dropping their handcuffs to declare they will no longer participate in national lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

THE FACTS: The video is from June 2020 and does not show a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. The French police officers in the video were dropping their cuffs to protest new limits on arrest tactics and criticism of alleged violence and racism in their ranks after George Floyd’s death in the United States. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while Floyd was held face-down on the ground. Protests over police killings erupted worldwide, including in France, where Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced in June that the nation’s police force would no longer teach or permit chokeholds during arrests. Castaner acknowledged that there are racist police officers and promised “zero tolerance” for racism within the force going forward. Police officers in France responded with their own protests, gathering in several cities to throw down their handcuffs in symbolic opposition to Castaner’s announcement. The digital media company Brut covered one such protest on June 11 at a police headquarters in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. In a tweet with a video of the event, a Brut reporter said the police denounced the stigmatization of their profession and disagreed with Castaner’s decision to forbid the strangulation method during arrests. A clip of Brut’s livestream that day is circulating anew this week along with false claims it shows a COVID-19 anti-lockdown protest. “French police declare they are no longer participating in the lockdown by symbolically dropping their cuffs,” text over the video reads in a Monday TikTok post. The same video was shared with thousands of likes on Twitter and Instagram. A side-by-side analysis confirmed this is an old video. There’s no evidence for the claim that French police are boycotting coronavirus restrictions.

— Ali Swenson


Kansas City schools superintendent didn’t tweet at rapper

CLAIM: Mark Bedell, the superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, tweeted in response to rapper and influencer Bhad Bhabie’s post about sending private messages on OnlyFans, a social media platform that allows people to sell explicit content to subscribers.

THE FACTS: The tweet came from an account impersonating the superintendent, both Bedell and an Associated Press analysis of the image confirmed. This week, an image falsely claiming to show a tweet from a superintendent in Kansas City, Missouri, circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter. The image showed an April 1 tweet from rapper Bhad Bhabie, whose real name is Danielle Bregoli. In the tweet, she said she planned to respond to direct messages on OnlyFans, a platform where models and social media influencers charge subscribers to view explicit images, videos and other content. A Twitter user appearing to have the same picture and Twitter handle as Bedell replied to Bregoli’s tweet, saying he had “been waiting” and accusing Bregoli of “teasing” users. However, a closer look at the image shows the user’s Twitter handle employs an uppercase “I” instead of a lowercase “L” to impersonate Bedell’s handle, which is @MarkBedell_KCPS. The account that posted the tweet has been deactivated. Twitter has permanently suspended a different account with a similar handle to Bedell for violating the Twitter rules on impersonation, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed. Bedell responded to the fake accounts on Monday in a tweet that was shared by Kansas City Public Schools. “You may be seeing some fake accounts popping up under my name; please know that your senses are correct-they are fake!” Bedell wrote. “We have removed 3 fake accounts over the last 10 days. We are in the process of verifying my account with @Twitter.”

— Ali Swenson


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