By ALI SWENSON, BEATRICE DUPUY and ABRIL MULATO (AP)
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: Photo shows homeowner aiming a handgun at an armed protester in front of her mansion in St. Louis.
THE FACTS: The protester is holding a video camera and microphone, not a gun. On Sunday, as protesters in St. Louis marched through the city’s Central West End neighborhood to the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, they were confronted by a white couple pointing guns at them. The protesters were on their way to Krewson’s house to call for her resignation after she read the names and addresses of those who wrote letters asking to defund the police force during a Facebook Live briefing. A photo taken from behind the protesters was misrepresented by social media users online with the false claim that it showed a protester brandishing a gun as the white woman in the photo points a handgun at him. “Take a look…Some say gun…Some say microphone. Looks like a gun at this angel,” said one post, misspelling angle. But according to a caption with the photo taken by Lawrence Bryant for Reuters, the photo shows a protester holding a video camera and microphone. A video screen attached to the camera can be seen next to the microphone. The photo shows Christopher Phillips, a St. Louis based filmmaker, who was taking video of the protests for a documentary he is working on. Phillips said when Mark McCloskey, 63, and his 61-year-old wife, Patricia, came outside with their guns, he felt like it was important to capture the moment on camera despite fearing that protesters could get shot. “I was like I have to get this because at some point you have to hold them accountable and the best way to do that is with film and documentation,” he said. To further prove social media users wrong about the misrepresented photo online, Phillips even tweeted at the makers of his camera and microphone who confirmed the products in the photo belonged to them.
CLAIM: Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator and former Democratic presidential candidate from California, said on June 18 that once President Trump is no longer in office “and we have regained our rightful place in the White House,” his supporters will feel the “vengeance of a nation.”
THE FACTS: There is no evidence Harris ever said this. This fabricated quote originated on the satirical website Bustatroll.org, in 2019 and is making the rounds again — but this time, people are sharing it as true. Outspoken rock star and Trump supporter Ted Nugent is the latest to share a viral image that falsely attributes the vindictive quote to Harris on June 18. “And once Trump’s gone and we have regained our rightful place in the White House, look out if you supported him and endorsed his actions, because we’ll be coming for you next,” says text written over a photo of Harris. “You will feel the vengeance of a nation. No stone will be left unturned as we seek you out in every corner of this great nation. For it is you who have betrayed us.” The post, which was viewed more than 105,000 times in 24 hours on Facebook, attributes the quote to Harris on June 18. “Yes, she really said this,” it adds for emphasis. But the quote first appeared online far before June 18. The Bustatroll.org article, listed as being written by a “Fired Writer,” was posted in August 2019. The website is part of America’s Last Line of Defense, which labels itself as satire and is known for circulating misinformation. Though Harris has been vocal in her criticism of Trump, an online search for the words in the post returned no evidence she had ever said them. Chris Harris, the senator’s communications director, also confirmed the quote is not real. Kamala Harris is one of several women still in consideration to be Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 presidential election, The Associated Press has reported.
CLAIM: Video shows Victoria’s Secret clothing tags have a chip in them that tracks buyers after they purchase a product.
THE FACTS: The tiny barcode-like tag highlighted in the video is actually an ultra high frequency device used to track inventory in the store, said Justin Patton, director of a radio-frequency identification — RFID — lab at Auburn University. The passive UHF RFID technology has been used for more than a decade to track inventory in retail stores, but it isn’t functional outside the range of in-store RFID readers. Millions of TikTok users viewed the video: a woman cuts open the tag of a Victoria’s Secret bra to reveal a flimsy, partially transparent, metallic chip inside of it. “Today I found out that Victoria’s Secret tracks you,” says a voice on the clip, which has been played more than 24 million times since it was posted on June 27. Days later, the video was also being shared on Twitter, including by an account linked to the conspiracy theory QAnon. “Now why on God’s green earth would @VictoriasSecret have a chip placed in their bra’s?” stated one Twitter user posting the clip. “Tracking female for what exactly? I do not want to know but I think I already know what their evil purpose is for this…. @NSAGov @fbi #QAnon.” But Patton, a researcher who studies RFID technology used in retail stores, explained that the actual purpose for the tag is far more benign. Retail stores including Victoria’s Secret, Walmart, Target, Nike and others have used RFID tags for years to speed up inventory management. Instead of having to scan each item’s barcode individually, stores use RFID readers to pick up radio waves from the tags at a speed of around 400 tags per second, Patton said. The tags only function when being scanned by readers, which typically have a range of only about 15 feet, and they don’t function well if in contact with a human body, according to Patton. “I can’t think of how anyone could use those maliciously,” he said. A spokesperson with Victoria’s Secret said the technology helps assure that the right products are available to customers. “We only use this technology in our back room and sales floors to help us manage inventory so that our associates can efficiently support our customers’ needs,” said the spokesperson, who declined to be identified by name.
CLAIM: A painting of several children wearing face masks with their countries’ flags on them appeared in 1994 at the Denver International Airport.
THE FACTS: The painting does not belong to the Denver airport art collection and has not been displayed there. The image of it began circulating online in February of this year. Social media posts that have been viewed thousands of times this week claim a painting of children wearing masks adorned with national flags first appeared at the Denver airport in 1994. The posts use the claim as evidence the COVID-19 pandemic was planned. “The Denver airport mural painted in 1994,” one Twitter user said. “Tell me this is not weird, how far do they plan this stuff in advance?” However, these posts are not correct. The communications office at the Denver airport told The Associated Press in an email that the painting in question is not an image from the airport’s art collection. What’s more, the image was not circulating on the internet before this year. In a reverse-image search, the AP found that the oldest posts available are from February 2020. A Filipino artist named Christian Joy Trinidad painted the work, which he called “Maskcommunication.” The artist’s Instagram account features a photograph of the painting, which confirms that the version on Facebook has been edited. The version spreading online features a boy wearing a mask with an Israeli flag. But in the original, that boy is actually wearing a mask with a Palestinian flag. The AP contacted Trinidad and he confirmed through an Instagram message that he created the painting for a contest in late February.
CLAIM: Photo shows a news story that The New York Times posted on June 27, then quickly pulled down, which claimed U.S. President Donald Trump died of a hydroxychloroquine overdose.
THE FACTS. The image was fabricated and does not reflect work by The New York Times. The false rumor that Trump overdosed and was pronounced dead originated as a prank on TikTok. But you might have been confused if you saw posts online claiming The New York Times published, then retracted, a story about his death. “Anyone see this?” one Twitter user posted on July 2. “The article was pulled immediately. They’re getting desperate.” Posted along with the tweet — which was shared by more than 2,800 people — was a screenshot showing what looked like a news article, with the headline “Donald J. Trump pronounced dead.” The fake article, attributed to Times writer Paul Krugman, claimed Trump suffered a hydroxychloroquine overdose and speculated on whether he was abusing drugs. A closer look at the picture, though, reveals the article is not legitimate. The font and writing style do not match The New York Times’ website. And Krugman, an economist and opinion columnist for the Times, does not write breaking news stories and would not be a likely author for a piece like this. The picture being shared on Twitter is a screenshot from a June 27 TikTok video that the user later deleted. On TikTok one day before that, a user known as @thesoggycactus posted a video explaining a ploy to get the hashtag #riptrump trending by sharing fake rumors about his death by hydroxychloroquine overdose. “Much like one of my close friends faked her death in seventh grade, I want to do the same thing for our president, and this is how we’re going to do it,” the TikTok user said in the video. “Use the hashtag #riptrump. I want to see people making T-shirts. I want to see memoriam posts. I need artists making pictures. ” That video received more than 521,000 likes in five days, and the hashtag had been viewed more than 20 million times as of July 2. The TikTok user who spread the rumor about the fake New York Times article posted an explanation a day later, confirming she shared it as a joke. “That video was entirely a joke and meant no harm,” she said.
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.