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

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A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media.

Here are the real facts:


CLAIM: Prosecutors struck a secret plea deal with financier Jeffrey Epstein under the Obama administration.

THE FACTS: Posts circulating on Twitter and Facebook wrongly link former President Barack Obama to a 2008 no-prosecution plea deal federal prosecutors signed with Epstein. The agreement allowed Epstein to plead guilty to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution rather than more serious federal charges. Obama did not take office until Jan. 20, 2009, after then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta entered into the secret agreement with Epstein. Acosta resigned from his post as labor secretary Friday. The agreement came under scrutiny following Epstein’s arrest July 6 on charges alleging he recruited and abused dozens of underage girls at his mansions in New York and Palm Beach, Florida. He has pleaded not guilty. The false posts linking Obama to the deal suggest that the former president hid Epstein’s case to protect fellow Democrats, such as former President Bill Clinton, who has acknowledged flying on Epstein’s private plane. Several Democratic presidential candidates and other top Democrats had called for the firing or resignation of Acosta, who was appointed labor secretary by President Donald Trump in 2017. Court records list only two U.S. government representatives as parties to the agreement with Epstein: Acosta and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafana.


CLAIM: If Obama could remove the citizenship question in 2010 without the Supreme Court, why does Trump need permission to put it back on?

THE FACTS: Former President Barack Obama did not eliminate a question about citizenship from the 2010 census, as blogs and social media posts have falsely reported in recent days. The inaccurate claims have spread widely online since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on June 27 against the Trump administration in its push to add the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 form. The inaccurate posts circulating on Facebook ask why President Donald Trump needs permission to query households about citizenship status on the 2020 census and blames Obama for scrubbing the question from the 2010 survey. Obama, however, was not in office when the 2010 census was created. The Census Bureau finalized questions for the 2010 form in March 2008, the agency’s records show. President George W. Bush was in the Oval Office at the time. Documents from 2008 show the bureau planned to only ask 10 census questions — none of them about citizenship. The bureau has not asked about citizenship status on the main census form, which is distributed every decade to U.S. households, since 1950. It was eliminated on the 1960 census and, until Trump, there had not been a political push to re-insert the question. “Nobody proposed it, nobody ever asked for it,” Margo Anderson, a census historian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told The Associated Press. The Census Bureau added the citizenship question in 1970 on the long form questionnaire, which includes dozens of more detailed questions, and was offered every 10 years until 2010 to a sample of U.S. households, Anderson said. The long-form census was scrapped after the 2000 census in response to complaints that the survey was too burdensome and invasive, Anderson added. It was replaced in 2010 with the American Community Survey, which is sent to some U.S. households every year and asks dozens of questions, such as citizenship status, annual household income and military status.


CLAIM: The Food and Drug Administration will require that ice cream cartons be sealed with plastic in response to a video of a teenage girl licking from a container in a store and returning it to the shelf.

THE FACTS: The FDA has made no changes to its regulations because of the video, which shows a girl in a grocery store laughing as she licks a carton of Blue Bell ice cream and then returns it to the freezer. The video has been viewed millions of times online and led to posts on Facebook and Twitter claiming that the teen’s actions would lead to higher ice cream prices because of new FDA packaging requirements. “The issue that sparked this is a matter for local law enforcement at one retail location,” Peter Cassell, press officer for the FDA, told The Associated Press in an email. The AP reported on July 5 that Blue Bell Creameries determined that the incident took place at a Walmart store in Lufkin, Texas. The company said the container was found and removed. A similar incident was reported a few days later in Louisiana. According to the AP , a 36-year-old man was arrested for product tampering in that case after posting a picture on Facebook.


CLAIM: Video shows an attempted terrorist attack in Algeria where an airliner narrowly misses a fuel tanker in its path while landing.

THE FACTS: The fabricated clip was taken from a video game and then circulated with false captions, including “Terrorist attack in Algeria, which fails to work because of the pilot’s immense skill.” The video of an A380 Airbus plane coming in for a landing and then lifting back off to narrowly miss the tanker was taken from the popular action video game Grand Theft Auto V. The video gained traction online after it was tweeted by a Pakistani politician who called the narrow escape by the pilot miraculous. It then circulated on Twitter and Facebook with false captions suggesting a terrorist attack. The original video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. In the YouTube clip, the player sets up a fictional scenario of the tanker stopping in front of the plane. The player identified the video as Grand Theft Auto V gameplay.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

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