By ALI SWENSON, ARIJETA LAJKA, BEATRICE DUPUY and AMANDA SEITZ
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:
CLAIM: Video appears to show presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on “The View” avoiding a question about inappropriate touching.
THE FACTS: The video, taken from Biden’s April 26, 2019, appearance on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View,” was edited to make it appear he failed to give a direct answer to the question about inappropriate touching. The Daily Caller, a conservative website, posted the edited clip on April 26, 2019, and labeled it as “satire.” Social media users shared the spoof video a year later with negative comments and no satire label. “Do you really want this man as your President? Seriously @JoeBiden #RacistBiden is not fit to be a leader even of his own home. Listen to him on the view. It is so funny how the ladies are trying to help him. Even put words on his mouth. Nothing worked for #CreepyJoeBiden,” stated one Twitter user, who shared the video on May 25. The video features multiple misleading edits, where key portions of Biden’s response were taken out. For example, in one instance, co-host Sunny Hostin asks Biden, “Are you prepared to apologize to those women?” In the actual exchange Biden states, “Look, here’s the deal, I have to be and everyone has to be much more aware of the private space of men and women … and I am much more cognizant of that.” The camera stays fixed on Biden. The edited clip takes out large portions of Biden’s response to the question to make it appear incoherent: “Look, here’s the deal, I am so, like for example, I actually thought in my head when I walked out here, I mean, do I … we’re friends. I should be able to read better. But I have never in my life done anything in approaching a woman that has been…” In the edited clip, the co-hosts appear shocked at Biden’s response. Their facial expressions were spliced in and taken from other points of the interview. In another part of the edited clip, co-host Joy Behar says, “Here’s your opportunity right now to just say you apologize, you’re sorry, I think we can clean this up right now.” In the actual clip, she poses this comment when discussing Anita Hill. Hill accused then-Supreme Court-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and Biden led the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into the accusation. Clips of the original interview can be found on official accounts belonging to “The View” on Twitter and YouTube.
CLAIM: Two photos circulating on social media show the Minneapolis police officer who was videotaped kneeling on a black man’s neck during an arrest on Monday. In one the man pictured is wearing a baseball cap that says “Make Whites Great Again,” and in the other he is on stage at a Trump rally.
THE FACTS: The officer, Derek Chauvin, is not in either of the photos. On May 27, a photo was shared widely on social media featuring a man wearing a “Make Whites Great Again” hat and holding a blackberry between his thumb and index finger. The hand appeared to be making an OK sign, a gesture that has been used widely by white supremacists. Jonathan Lee Riches, a known internet troll, confirmed he is the man in the photo, but he says the image was altered and he was not wearing the hat. Facebook and Twitter users shared the image on Wednesday claiming it showed Chauvin. In many cases the photo was juxtaposed with a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin and three other police officers were dismissed from the department soon after a video emerged that showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck, even after he complained of being unable to breathe. Several prominent Twitter users, including Ice Cube, posted the photo under the false impression it showed Chauvin. Riches said his face was edited into the image, but did not provide the original photo when asked. The windows and landscape in the background of the photo appear to match the backgrounds of photos Riches has posted on Facebook. Riches is known for creating outrageous posts after tragic and politically charged events. He pretended to be the shooter’s uncle after a 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and was indicted in federal court in 2018 for posing as the gunman who shot former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Other photos shared widely on social media after Floyd’s death wrongly claimed Chauvin was among police officers onstage with President Donald Trump at a rally in Minneapolis last October. The officers are smiling in shirts that said “Cops for Trump.” “Photos Released on Social Media Appeared to Show Minneapolis Police Officer Who Murdered George Floyd,” read the headline of a Facebook post by left-leaning news website the Political Tribune, which had racked up nearly 120,000 views on Wednesday. “Did this murder ‘Make America great again?’” read a post retweeted more than 1,700 times. The widespread photos actually show Bloomington Police Federation President Mike Gallagher, not Chauvin, according to Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll. “Can you put a stop to the false narrative please?” Kroll told the AP. “None of the officers in the incident were near the Trump rally.” Gallagher did not return a request for comment.
CLAIM: Photo shows a federal agent disguised as a protester to incite violence in the protests demanding justice for George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes as he begged for air.
THE FACTS: The photo was taken during a protest in Germany earlier this month, before Floyd’s death on Monday and the protests that followed in Minneapolis this week. The photo, which showed a man wearing a mask, a red hoodie and a black beanie with an earpiece sticking out underneath, circulated widely on social media. Posts cited the earpiece as evidence the man was a federal agent hiding among the protesters in Minneapolis. A reverse image search found the photo on social media posts as early as May 18, a week before Floyd’s death. The man in the photo was identified in posts as an antifascist taking part in protests there. The photo was shared with #falseflag hashtags, which has been used by conspiracy theorists to say that events or protests are staged, and an #AgentProvocateur hashtag. One post with the photo received more than 1,000 likes and retweets on Twitter. Anti-lockdown protesters demonstrated across Germany during the weekend prior to May 18, including in Frankfurt, where they protested against the measures enacted to curb the spread of coronavirus. The photo was shared Friday to suggest it showed a federal agent pretending to be a protester in Minneapolis, where protests — some violent — erupted after Floyd’s death in police custody. “Who is this Minnesota protester taking orders from?” one post shared in an online forum said. A Qanon account that also shared the photo Friday on Instagram received more than 4,000 likes. “You think these events happen organically? Try again..,” the post said.
CLAIM: A photograph shared on social media shows a building fire in Minneapolis amid protests in the aftermath of the officer-involved death of George Floyd.
THE FACTS: The photo shows a mini-mall on fire during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. As protests and riots erupted in Minneapolis in the wake of Floyd’s death, a Minnesota gun rights Facebook group shared a photograph of a fire crew responding to a building engulfed in flames. The post, which quickly amassed more than 27,000 views on Wednesday, addressed the state’s governor directly: “Paging Governor Tim Walz, are you.. uhh… gonna stop any of this or… ?” However, a reverse image search of the photo reveals it was actually taken more than 25 years ago in Los Angeles. The April 30, 1992, image, captured by photographer Mike Nelson, depicts firefighters spraying water on a burning mini-mall during the LA riots. Demonstrations rocked the city that year after the acquittal of officers involved in an excessive force lawsuit for their arrest and beating of Rodney King. Though the photo is old, it is true that Minneapolis has faced three nights of protests after the death of George Floyd, and that some of the protesters set fires.
CLAIM: “Looters” steal children’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ mall train during Minneapolis protests.
THE FACTS: The photo of people driving a children’s train down a city street was taken in August 2014 during protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The photo circulated widely on social media this week with posts that falsely claimed protesters in Minneapolis stole the children’s “Thomas the Tank Engine” train from a nearby mall. “Looters have stolen the children’s train out of the #Minneapolis…” one post shared on Facebook stated. The post had nearly a thousand shares. Another post on Twitter falsely claimed the train was stolen from the mall: “Minneapolis trippin fr they stole the mall train,” said a tweet posted on May 28. The post had over 8,000 retweets. On Aug. 9, 2014, white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed. The shooting prompted demonstrations that lasted for weeks. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Several journalists covering the Ferguson protests at the time posted photos and videos on social media showing people riding the train in August 2014.
CLAIM: Protesters looted Mall of America Wednesday night, with a video showing someone driving a car through North America’s largest shopping complex.
THE FACTS: No incidents have occurred at the Mall of America since protests erupted in Minneapolis this week, Mall of America spokeswoman Sarah Grap confirmed to The Associated Press. Social media users are falsely claiming in Facebook and Twitter posts that the Mall of America was trashed this week during protests. Some are using a 2019 video of a car driving through an Illinois mall to make the false claim. The video was taken in September 2019 at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill. A witness at the time captured the film of the SUV driving through the mall, sending shoppers scurrying. That witness video was used by several Chicago news outlets that reported on the incident. The Mall of America is in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, about seven miles south of the police station near where Floyd was arrested.
CLAIM: The coronavirus has an HIV protein that proves it was genetically modified.
THE FACTS: Experts say the coronavirus has no HIV sequences in it’s genetic makeup. Since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, social media posts have tried to cast doubt on its origins. Recently, online posts have tried to link the coronavirus and HIV to suggest the novel coronavirus was man-made. “Those little spikes that come out of the Coronavirus and make it attach inside our lungs so efficiently are Spike Glycoproteins, better known as S-proteins for short. Well the Covid-19 strain that’s currently going around has S-protein 120 spikes. S-protein 120 is only found in one other virus known to man, HIV,” states a claim circulating on Facebook. It goes on to say that shows “the current Covid-19 strain was indeed genetically modified by the insertion of these HIV proteins into the Coronavirus and therefore weaponizing it.” Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, says such claims are not true. The coronavirus has no HIV-1 sequences, which can be seen by looking at the genome sequence, he said. “The spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 is just like the spike of every other CoV,” Racaniello said in an email. “It is not from HIV-1. This post is pure nonsense, fake science, and not worth responding to.” Similar posts circulated early this year after a scientific paper was published on bioRXIV, a repository for scientific papers that have not yet been peer reviewed or published in a traditional scientific journal. The paper was posted by Indian scientists who said they had found “uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag.” At the time, the paper was widely debunked by scientists on social media. It was withdrawn from bioRXIV following the criticism, but the paper was used as fodder for conspiracy theorists and continues to circulate online in various forms. A new version of the false claim attempts to make a link between the number (120, they falsely state) of spike proteins on coronavirus, which allow the virus to attach to human cells, and the molecular weight, 120kDa, of the glycoprotein protein on the outer layer of HIV. The gp120 protein in HIV helps the virus find a targeted host cell so it can replicate. Dr. Phyllis Kanki, a professor of health sciences in the department of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the 120 connection the post makes is inaccurate and means nothing. “I don’t know where they get this idea that it has 120 spikes, that is clearly wrong,” Kanki said. “It would be far greater than that.” Experts further say the genes in the coronavirus spike protein and HIV gp120 look nothing alike. “It’s like saying that because a dog has legs and we have legs then we are both the same thing,” said Dr. Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology and director of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine. “That 120 has nothing to do with the 120 that’s on the HIV molecule.” The posts also suggest that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was involved in creating the virus because he is listed on several patents related to HIV research. Fauci received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 for his work around HIV and AIDS. The false claim around the genetic makeup of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and 350,000 people globally, plays into a larger conspiracy theory that suggests the virus was made in a lab. It continues to circulate online despite the scientific proof that the virus comes from nature. A paper published in March in Nature, one of the world’s leading science journals, completed an analysis of the public genome sequence data of the virus and related viruses, and concluded that the coronavirus originated through natural processes.
CLAIM: Italy discovers through autopsies that COVID-19 is “not a virus, but a bacterium,” which clots the blood. COVID-19 can “easily” be treated with aspirin and blood thinning medicine.
THE FACTS: Posts circulating on social media misrepresent information from an Italian study of people who died of COVID-19. The study, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, refers to COVID-19 as a virus, not bacterium. “COVID 19 is for sure a virus and antibiotics do not have any effect against this infection,” Aurelio Sonzogni, a pathologist at Ospedale Papa Giovanni XXIII, a hospital in Bergamo, and an author of the report, told the AP in an email. In addition, while blood clotting can occur in those infected with the disease, anticoagulants can’t treat the infection. The widely-shared post contains several other false claims, including that the World Health Organization “law” does not allow autopsies on those who died with COVID-19. Sonzogni said that by performing 100 autopsies, they found that “COVID 19 was able to trigger a damage to blood vessels of lungs and of other organs, leading to diffuse thrombotic occlusions.” Thrombotic occlusions happen when a blood clot forms inside the blood vessels. According to AP reporting, it’s not clear how many patients with the virus develop the clots. But studies from China, Europe and the U.S. suggest that clots develop in anywhere from 3% to 70% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Patients commonly receive blood thinning drugs for prevention, the AP noted. The posts also falsely state, “Ventilators and ICU units were not necessary,” for those infected with COVID-19, and suggest that aspirin and anticoagulants can “easily” treat the virus instead. Some doctors are moving away from treating patients using ventilators, but it is because they are seeking new, less invasive ways of treating the virus, according to AP reporting. And while anticoagulants may be used to address blood clots, doctors can’t just treat the infection with blood thinners. “Clotting is triggered by many illnesses,” Agnes Lee, medical director of the Thrombosis Program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told the AP. “We do not use aspirin or anticoagulants to treat infection. That’s not the use for these medications.” Another false claim in the post states that Italy is “demanding Bill Gates and the World Health Organization be held accountable for ‘crimes against humanity’ for misleading, misdirecting, and withholding life saving information from the world, which cost the lives of thousands.” The government has made no such demand. In the last few months, there have been several conspiracy theories swirling online that target Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, for his work around vaccines. On May 14, Sara Cunial, an independent member of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, made a speech suggesting that Gates should be arrested. She is part of the populist 5-Star Movement, whose founder Beppe Grillo casts doubt on vaccines, pharmaceutical companies and the health industry.
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.