ALI SWENSON, BEATRICE DUPUY, ARIJETA LAJKA 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: The nasal swab test commonly used for to diagnose COVID-19 involves obtaining a sample from a protective layer of cells known as the blood-brain barrier, which can result in inflammation of the brain.
THE FACTS: The swab used to diagnose COVID-19 goes so far back into the nose that it can be uncomfortable, even causing some people’s eyes to water. But it doesn’t touch the area known as the blood-brain barrier, where blood vessels and the brain exchange important nutrients, despite social media posts that claim it does. This week, Facebook posts viewed more than a million times shared a diagram of the nasopharyngeal swab test next to an anatomical picture of the brain, suggesting the swab disrupts the blood-brain barrier. “The blood-brain barrier is exactly where the swab has to be placed,” the image read, with a raised eyebrow emoji. “Coincidence??? I don’t think so.” However, Dr. Morgan Katz, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said these posts fundamentally misunderstand what’s happening when the test is conducted. The swab “would have to go through layers of muscle and fascia, as well as the base of the skull, which is a thick bone, in order to get anywhere near the blood-brain barrier, and I would say that it is not possible,” Katz told The Associated Press. Instead of the brain, the test collects a sample from the nasopharynx, an area between the back of the nose and the back of the throat where respiratory viruses often live. “That’s just a place where we expect to see the highest yield of respiratory viruses,” she said.
CLAIM: Wearing a face mask for extended periods of time can cause pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining around the lung.
THE FACTS: Multiple experts told The Associated Press there is no medical evidence that wearing a face mask could lead to this condition, despite Facebook posts claiming it could. “Be careful healthy people, shared from a friend,” read one Facebook post, which described a story of a healthy 19-year-old frontline grocery store worker who started feeling sick and was diagnosed with pleurisy. “They basically tell her.. It’s because she’s been wearing a mask for over 8 hours a day 5-6 days a week. Breathing in her own bacteria. Carbon dioxide.. Caused an infection.” Another Facebook post featured a diagram of a lung with an inflamed lining. “Result of wearing mask for 8 hours a day,” the caption read. “Why are they not reporting the number of people being hospitalized for this?? YOU NEED FRESH AIR.” But doctors who study the respiratory system say a face mask doesn’t pose this risk. “There is absolutely no truth in that claim,” said Humberto Choi, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, in an email. “There are thousands of health care workers wearing face masks everyday including masks that are much tighter than simple surgical masks. Nobody is getting pleurisy because of that.” “I don’t see a medically plausible mechanism for mask wearing to cause pleurisy,” said Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association. Claims that mask-wearing leads to harmful conditions, including bacterial and fungal infections, pneumonia, hypercapnia and other ailments are also false, according to AP reporting.
CLAIM: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out COVID-19 tests “seeded” with the virus.
THE FACTS: Social media users shared an illustration of a COVID-19 nasal swab test where a six inch long swab is placed into the cavity between the nose and mouth with false information that the CDC sent out tests that contained the live virus. The post asserts that COVID-19 tests are tainted and could expose people to the virus. According to one Instagram post that shared the illustration with false information: “COVID-19 test has the virus … the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent states tainted lab tests in early February that were themselves seeded with the virus, federal officials have confirmed.” The Instagram caption further states: “… if one person in the family could have gotten tested with one of those tainted ‘Planted’ COVID-19 tests that would potentially expose the entire family to the virus…” In February, the CDC distributed a batch of faulty COVID-19 test kits to laboratories, but the kit did not contain the live virus. The contaminated tests were not sent out to patients. The CDC produced two types of test kits in January. There was no evidence that the first batch had any issues. The second type of test kit, which was developed to be manufactured by the CDC, was contaminated. The Department of Health & Human Services published an investigation of the failed rollout on June 19. The report states: “After receiving these tests from CDC in early February, public health laboratories attempted to validate the test kits before using them on real specimens. They could not validate the test — a negative control gave a positive result —and thus, the test kits were not used and no patient received an inaccurate test result.” According to the review, “One of the three reagents in this initial batch of manufactured test kits was likely contaminated. These tests are so sensitive that this contamination could have been caused by a single person walking through an area with positive control material and then later entering an area where tests reagents were being manipulated,” the report states. Positive control material is the synthetic, non-infectious part of the virus. Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatric infectious diseases and of health research and policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, told the AP that this is not the live virus. The false post implies that nasal swab tests are tainted with the virus. “We only use sterile swabs,” Maldonado explained. “That’s actually the problem with getting the swab is that we have to make sure that they’ve been sterilized. We can’t just take Q-tips from a box.”
CLAIM: “Teachers are the number one occupation of the antifa terrorist organization according to the FBI.”
THE FACTS: False. There is no evidence that teachers make up an outsized portion of antifa, a shorthand term for “anti-fascists.” The FBI told The Associated Press it “has not made any such statements about the occupations of people who are attracted to particular ideologies.” This false claim has gone viral online recently, both as part of longer blog posts promoting conspiracy theories around COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd, and independently on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook alone, posts connecting teachers with antifa have been viewed more than a million times in the past week. But the posts don’t reflect the way the FBI actually investigates criminal activity or people who identify as antifa, which has become an umbrella term for left-leaning militant groups that oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations. While FBI director Christopher Wray recently told Fox News the agency is investigating various “violent anarchist extremists, some of whom self-identify or otherwise link to the antifa movement,” the agency does not initiate investigations solely based on an individual’s identity. “Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security,” the FBI told the AP in a statement. Accordingly, the FBI said it has not made any statements about the occupations of people who are drawn to particular ideologies, such as anti-fascism. Though President Donald Trump has tweeted that the United States will designate antifa as a terrorist organization, it does not qualify for inclusion on the State Department’s foreign terror organizations list because antifa is a domestic movement.
CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci is married to Ghislaine Maxwell’s sister.
THE FACTS: Fauci is married to Christine Grady, chief of the bioethics department at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. Dr. Fauci’s role as the nation’s top infectious disease expert has made him a target of false information. Social media users are now attempting to link Fauci to conspiracy theories tied to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who died in jail after being charged with sex trafficking underage girls. Posts online say that Fauci’s wife is related to Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who was arrested last week and charged with helping recruit girls for Epstein. Maxwell is one of seven siblings, including twin sisters Christine and Isabel. Their father Robert Maxwell was a billionaire publishing magnate whose nude body was recovered from waters off the Canary Islands in November 1991. He had disappeared from his yacht named Lady Ghislaine. The Associated Press reported at the time that Robert Maxwell had four daughters and three sons. Two of Maxwell’s children died: Michael, who died in 1968 at age 21, and Karine, who died in 1957 at age 3, of leukemia. His daughter Christine is not Christine Grady. The National Institutes of Health interviewed Grady in 1997 about her life where she said she grew up in New Jersey as one of five children. “But when I was fairly young, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, and my mother encouraged it the most, even though she was not one herself. She thought nursing was a noble profession and a good thing for me to do. So she encouraged that,” Grady says in the oral history interview. Grady served on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues from 2010 to 2017 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and biology as well as a doctorate in philosophy from Georgetown University. Former GOP candidate DeAnna Lorraine tweeted the photo of Fauci and Grady Sunday, saying Grady was Maxwell’s sister. Lorraine later corrected the tweet. “Looks like the connection may not be accurate w Fauci’ wife/Maxwell. When ppl sent me this I researched it & it checked out at first, I’m sorry for getting excited about the connection & jumping gun,” she later tweeted. Posts making the false claim online shared a 2016 photo, which can be found in the Getty Images archive, of Fauci with Grady at the White House state dinner held by then-President Barack Obama for the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi. “No coincidences,” one post with 1,429 likes on Instagram said sharing the photo of the two.
CLAIM: The dress Melania Trump wore during Fourth of July celebrations featured drawings by various victims of child sex trafficking.
THE FACTS: The sketches on the dress were made by art students in a class, not by victims of sex trafficking. On July 3, during a visit to Mount Rushmore to commemorate the Fourth of July, First Lady Melania Trump wore a white dress with black lines, black shoes and a black belt. Social media users criticized both the appearance and the price of the garment, which cost $3,840. Others claimed the dress featured drawings from sex trafficking victims. “The media mocked First Lady Melania’s dress,” read one Facebook post with more than 8 million views. “They said it looked like childish scribbles. Little did they know, they were the drawings of several young victims of sex trafficking who tried to explain their pain through pictures.” But posts like this are not correct — the dress actually shows sketches of “dancing girls” made by design students from the British art school Central Saint Martins. The students worked with Julie Verhoeven, a fashion illustrator, during a class at the Alexander McQueen flagship store in London. In early May, Paper magazine published a story explaining that the sketches of dancers were first made on sheets. “Afterwards, Creative Director Sarah Burton enlisted the entire McQueen staff to hand-embroider and stitch over the sketches of a single ivory linen dress,” the story reads.
___ Reporter Abril Mulato contributed to this item from Mexico City.
CLAIM: Kansas City Chiefs CEO and owner Clark Hunt told NFL players, coaches and staff that they are all “simply paid performers on a stage” and he will “immediately fire” anyone who does not stand, with their hand over their heart, during the playing of the national anthem.
THE FACTS: Hunt did not hold such a meeting, although he has publicly expressed support for Chiefs players standing during the national anthem. Facebook users for years have circulated a false letter that claims to reveal the Kansas City Chiefs owner called a dramatic meeting to tell NFL players they need to stand during the anthem — or face immediate dismissal from the team. The hoax is gaining traction, again, on Facebook before the football season resumes and after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized last month for the way the league has handled peaceful protests over racial injustice. They included players taking a knee in 2016 during the national anthem — an effort led by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Goodell made the comments this year, the day after Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes urged the league to condemn racism. The letter first began circulating on Facebook in 2016, as debate over football players’ decision to kneel during the anthem raged. At the time, Hunt told the Kansas City Star the posts were a hoax. “I have heard about it,” Hunt told the Kansas City Star in 2016. “It was an Internet hoax.” Brad Gee, the director of football communications for the Kansas City Chiefs, also confirmed to The Associated Press that the contents of the viral letter are inaccurate. Hunt has publicly stated in years past that he prefers players to stand during the national anthem but several Chiefs players have sat or taken a knee during the national anthem, without being fired, including star tight end Travis Kelce. In 2017, after President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who didn’t stand during the national anthem, Hunt responded with a formal statement, saying he believes in “honoring the American flag” but encouraged everyone to “work together to solve these difficult issues.”
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.