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

National

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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:
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Post shows family reunification from 2020, not this week

CLAIM: Nine parents who were deported under the Trump administration after being separated from their children at the border were allowed to return to the United States on Wednesday.

THE FACTS: The family reunions referenced on social media did not happen this week — they occurred in 2020 due to a court order. After President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday establishing a task force that will focus on reuniting families separated by border agents under the previous administration, a false rumor spread on social media that a group of parents had been given permission to return to America to reunify with their children. “Nine parents deported by the Trump administration landed back into the U.S. Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half. Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron,” the tweet claimed. But David Xol, who is from Guatemala, and his son were among a small number of families who were reunited in January 2020. The reunifications followed a 2018 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging family separations, which resulted in U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw allowing a small number of deported parents to return to the U.S. Sabraw found government agents had unlawfully prevented those parents from pursuing asylum cases. The erroneous post misrepresents an Associated Press photo of the father and son hugging at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 22, 2020, after Xol arrived on a flight. The facts are detailed in an AP report from the time. The author of the tweet issued a second post Thursday acknowledging the reunions happened in 2020, but by then the original tweet had been retweeted more than 37,000 times. Many social media users shared the original post along with praise for the president, and it was even retweeted by the White House director of political strategy and outreach, Emmy Ruiz. After other social media users notified her the post shared old information, Ruiz wrote: “I’m sorry. Will undo RT. Thank you for bringing to my attention. The graver error though was separating these families to begin with.” About 5,500 children have been identified in court documents as having been separated during Trump’s presidency, including about 600 whose parents have yet to be found by a court-appointed committee.

— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix contributed this report.

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Photo shows 2011 Wisconsin protests, not U.S. Capitol during Kavanaugh hearings

CLAIM: Photo shows Democratic protesters storming the U.S. Capitol during the confirmation of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

THE FACTS: The photo is being misrepresented. It was taken in February 2011 at the state Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin, during labor demonstrations against a proposal that would effectively strip union workers of collective bargaining rights. Nearly a month after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, posts emerged on social media using the photo to falsely imply that similar riots happened during Senate confirmation hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “Remember when democrat protesters stormed the US Capitol in 2018, took over the US Senate building, and tried to get into the US Supreme Court during the Kavanaugh confirmations? Democrat legislators and the MSM cheered it on. If it wasn’t for double standards liberals would have no standards at all…” said a post on the verified Facebook page for singer Ted Nugent, which featured the photo. Nugent did not respond to a request for comment from the AP. There were demonstrations against Kavanaugh’s nomination following accusations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, which were denied by Kavanaugh. But those protests, while disruptive, were much smaller and resulted in far fewer arrests, mainly for unlawfully demonstrating in Senate office buildings. The February 2011 photo from Madison was taken as thousands of workers protested for weeks against then-Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for many state workers. The Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group, posted the original photo and confirmed to the AP in an email that the photo is from the Wisconsin protests in 2011.

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Ocasio-Cortez didn’t lie about location during Capitol riot

CLAIM: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, falsely claimed she faced rioters in the main Capitol building during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

THE FACTS: Ocasio-Cortez never claimed she was in the main Capitol building, nor did she claim she was face-to-face with a mob of violent rioters. In a Feb. 2 Instagram Live video where the congresswomen opened up about the Capitol attack and her past sexual assault, she explained that she was in her office in a neighboring building on the Capitol complex, where she experienced a frightening encounter with a Capitol Police officer who she said didn’t announce himself. Days later, viral social media posts falsely accused her of lying about the details. “Sooo is Twitter going to fact-check AOC’s fake story about imaginary mobs in her hallway?” read one Facebook post viewed more than 66,000 times on Thursday. “Or do they only do that to conservatives…” Another Facebook post viewed more than 100,000 times read, “AOC wasn’t even in the Capitol Building during her ‘near-death’ experience. One big lie. #AlexandriaOcasioSmollett.” The hashtag #AlexandriaOcasioSmollett, which appeared in multiple social media posts this week and was trending nationwide on Twitter Wednesday night, appeared to liken the congresswoman to former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a racist, anti-gay attack against himself in 2019. But in her video explaining her experience of the insurrection, Ocasio-Cortez made a point to clarify that she was in her congressional office in a different building nearby. “For you all to know, there’s the Capitol Hill complex,” she told her Instagram followers. “But members of Congress, except for, you know, the speaker and other very, very high ranking ones, don’t actually work in that building with the dome. There’s buildings like right next to the dome, and that’s where our actual offices are.” Other social media posts falsely attributed a quote to her to undermine her account of an interaction she had with a Capitol police officer on Jan. 6. A Facebook post with more than 50,000 views on Wednesday features a picture of the congresswoman overlaid with the quote: “And then the Capitol police officer said ‘This is MAGA country!’” But Ocasio-Cortez never made this claim. In the Instagram video, Ocasio-Cortez said she was in her office in a building near the Capitol building when she heard repeated bangs on the door, like someone was trying to get in. Her legislative director told her to hide, and she went into the bathroom. She then heard a male voice yelling, “Where is she?” She came out after her legislative director told her to, and a Capitol police officer was in the office. She said the officer told them to go to another building, but didn’t say specifically where or escort them, leaving her feeling unsafe. She said the officer did not loudly announce himself and seemed angry, leaving her uneasy. “It didn’t feel right, because he was looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the video. She didn’t quote the officer saying anything else.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Semora, North Carolina, contributed this report.

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Myanmar does not use Dominion Voting Systems

CLAIM: Myanmar used the election technology firm Dominion Voting Systems for its recent elections.

THE FACTS: Dominion has never done business in Myanmar, according to a company spokesperson, and the country used paper ballots — not machines — to vote in its November 2020 election. Social media posts making the false claim about Dominion followed a coup on Monday by Myanmar’s military. The military seized power after making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the country’s November elections. It detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won by a landslide, along with other senior politicians. Social media users falsely linked the situation to baseless claims of election fraud from the United States. “Well, well, well: Soros-Dominion machines were used in Myanmar to steal the election for The Lady,” said a Facebook post on Tuesday. In fact, voters used only paper ballots to vote in Myanmar’s general elections, according to a 2020 report funded by the European Union. The 28-page report, which detailed the country’s election process, did not mention Dominion or any other electronic voting system. An AP photographer who voted in the Myanmar election confirmed the voting process was entirely manual. AP video of voters casting their ballots and poll workers counting ballots shows no machines were involved. “No machines in Myanmar, no business in Myanmar,” said Tony Fratto, a partner with the public relations firm Hamilton Place Strategies, who spoke to The Associated Press on behalf of Dominion.

— Ali Swenson

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Post makes false claim about COVID-19 vaccine risk

CLAIM: People may be more susceptible to serious COVID-19 illness after they have been vaccinated.

THE FACTS: An Instagram post with more than 4,000 likes falsely claims that people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine may experience more severe symptoms if they are exposed to the virus. “Studies have warned COVID-19 vaccines may result in more serious disease when exposed to the virus by way of pathogenic priming and immune enhancement,” reads the post, which was shared by Joseph Mercola, a doctor who runs a natural health website. But scientists told The Associated Press that such effects simply haven’t shown up in the data. Research has shown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been proven to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 illness. It is true that some vaccines can, on rare occasions, cause more serious illnesses later, but scientists say that effect – known as antibody-dependent enhancement – has not been seen with COVID-19 vaccines. Such enhancement happened with older shots and more recently with a dengue virus vaccine. There is “abundant evidence” that immunization-enhanced disease “will not be a problem” with the COVID-19 shots, Dr. Paul Offit, director of a vaccine education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote in a report to the National Institutes of Health. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were tested on thousands of people, some of whom were later likely exposed to the virus. The effect wasn’t seen in the trials. The AP asked to see the studies mentioned in Mercola’s claim, and his organization responded with links. All the studies were published before Pfizer and Moderna had released data from their late stage trials, and some of the studies specifically contradicted his claim. Dr. Timothy Cardozo, an associate professor at NYU Langone Health, was the author of one of the studies Mercola cited. The Pfizer and Moderna data that came out after he published his study greatly reduced his concern about antibody dependent enhancement, he told the AP in a statement. He also noted that his paper made no statement on whether COVID-19 vaccines should be taken or avoided. Mercola did not respond to a request for a response. If Mercola’s post were accurate, vaccinated people would have had more infections than the unvaccinated, said Dr. Matthew Woodruff, an immunologist at Emory University. That hasn’t been the case. “We are now six months out of vaccinating those people, with continued exposure, and no emerging evidence of enhanced disease,” Woodruff said.

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H&M not selling children’s sweatshirt with ‘Klan’ message

CLAIM: Photo shows that the global clothing retailer H&M is selling a children’s sweatshirt with printed text that reads “Koolest Kid in the Klan.”

THE FACT: The photo was altered. It did not appear on H&M’s website. The manipulated image shows a blond child model in a white hooded sweatshirt that reads “Koolest Kid in the Klan,” with the K’s accentuated in bold red font. The image is made to look like a screenshot from H&M’s website, the layout showing various views and color selections for the sweatshirt, along with a label pricing it at $24.99. However, neither the picture nor the sweatshirt is real. “This is a fake photo,” the company told the Associated Press in an email. “We were upset and sad to see this as it goes against everything we stand for. To us, inclusion and diversity is key to the success of a global company and during the past year we have put extra focus on this.” A reverse-image search reveals the fake photo has circulated as a meme online since at least 2018. That year, H&M was forced to apologize after a real image on its website showing a Black child modeling a “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” sweatshirt was widely criticized as racist. The image was removed from all H&M channels and the company apologized. H&M Group has “increased the priority of diversity and inclusion in 2020 and for the coming years,” according to an update published on its website on Thursday.

— Ali Swenson

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