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

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 file photo, Porsche Bennett, Organizer for Black Lives Activists Kenosha, poses for a photo with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis. On Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting Bennett exposed the Democratic presidential candidate by saying she would not “go off” a paper she was provided by his campaign. Bennett was given the paper to read by her organization, not by Biden’s campaign. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • FILE - In this Monday, July 13, 2020 file photo, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser wears a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, as she speaks at a news conference on the coronavirus and the District’s response in Washington. On Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting Bowser proposed using her power to remove the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The D.C. mayor did not call for the removal of the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. The monuments are on federal land outside the mayor’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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: A Black woman speaking during a community event with Joe Biden in Kenosha, Wis., exposed the Democratic presidential candidate by saying she would not “go off” a paper she was provided by his campaign.

THE FACTS: Porsche Bennett, the woman speaking, was given the paper to read by her organization, not by Biden’s campaign. On Thursday, when Biden visited Kenosha, social media users circulated a video clip of Bennett speaking at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha. In the video, Bennett appears to go off script during a question-and-answer period, saying: “I’m just going to be honest, Mr. Biden, I was told to go off this paper, but I can’t. We need the truth and I am a part of the truth.” Bennett told reporters after speaking that she was given the paper by Black Lives Activists Kenosha (BLAK), where she is an organizer. Biden’s campaign told the AP that when Bennett said she was going off script, she was referring to pre-written questions given to her by her organization. The campaign said it did not provide any scripts or written material for participants to read. The Trump War Room, an official Twitter account for the president’s campaign, tweeted the video of Bennett on Thursday, stating: “Woman at Biden event in Kenosha says she was given a ‘paper’ telling her what to say.” The tweet was retweeted thousands of times and the clip of Bennett making the comment was widely shared across Facebook and Twitter. “AMERICA EXPOSES BIDEN!!️ @JoeBiden & his Dem handlers give out questions to constituents to ask ONLY what THEY wrote down. Porsche Bennett was not having that!,” said one tweet. Biden visited Kenosha in response to protests and unrest that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy reported this item from New York

CLAIM: Video shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden sleeping when he is supposed to be on air for a live morning television interview.

THE FACTS: The video was fabricated using a television news clip from 2011. In the original, an anchor with KBAK-TV in Bakersfield, Calif., attempted to interview singer Harry Belafonte remotely, but when they cut to him his eyes were closed and he did not respond. Belafonte’s publicist said at the time that the performer was meditating before the interview and his earpiece malfunctioned. In the 30-second altered video, Belafonte is replaced with video that appears to show Biden with his eyes closed and snoring sounds are added. A chyron was added to the bottom of the screen to read “THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ELECTION.” The Biden clip was pulled from an April 2020 town hall in which Biden turns his gaze downward for about 15 seconds as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the effects of COVID-19 on women. He then lifted his gaze. There were no snoring sounds. The altered video racked up thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A social media user identified as Damon Imani confirmed to the Associated Press that he created the altered video. The video posted on his YouTube account amassed more than 121,000 views before it was taken down in response to a report by the copyright owner. It was shared by public figures including Trump communications adviser Dan Scavino, whose Sunday tweet was labeled “manipulated media” by the social media site.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson reported this item from Seattle

CLAIM: The new vaccine for COVID-19 will be the first of its kind ever. It will be an “mRNA vaccine,” which will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.

THE FACTS: Experts say mRNA vaccines do not alter your DNA. As researchers work to test vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19, social media posts are sharing misinformation to sow doubt even before they become available to the public. The posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram suggest a new coronavirus mRNA vaccine will genetically modify humans. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates that began phase 3 testing in July use mRNA. Such vaccines are a new and unproven technology that experts say offers an easier and faster way to produce vaccines compared to traditional methods. They work by introducing a messenger RNA molecule into your body, which causes cells to produce a protein that resembles one of the viral proteins that make up SARS-CoV-2, said Brent R. Stockwell, a Columbia University biology and chemistry professor. “Your immune cells then recognize this viral protein and generate an immune response against it, primarily by generating antibodies that recognize the viral protein,” he said in an email. While there are other concerns with mRNA vaccines, such as the degree and length of protection and possible side effects, Stockwell said, modifying DNA is not one of them. Dr. Dan Culver, a lung specialist at Cleveland Clinic, agreed it’s not possible for an mRNA vaccine to alter your DNA. “This cannot change your genetic makeup,” he said. “The time that this RNA survives in the cells is relatively brief in the span of hours. What you are really doing is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours.”

— Beatrice Dupuy

CLAIM: California just passed SB 145, a bill that would end felonies for child rape and legalize pedophilia in the state.

THE FACTS: SB 145, which passed the California Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature, would not legalize pedophilia. It would only give judges expanded discretion to determine whether an adult must register as a sex offender. Under current law, judges can make that decision in cases of voluntary, but illegal, vaginal sex with a minor age 14-17 and an adult within 10 years of the minor’s age. SB 145 would expand that law to include voluntary oral and anal sex within the same age parameters. The bill would not apply to any minor younger than 14, nor would it apply to any age gap larger than 10 years. It also would not apply if either party claims the sex was involuntary. The bill has been widely condemned by social media users falsely claiming it would legalize pedophilia. “PEDOPHILIA is now LEGAL in CALIFORNIA,” read a Facebook post viewed more than 8 million times. “Now a 21 year old can have sex with an 11 year old, and not be listed on the sex registry as a sex offender. This is unbelievable California!” Posts making such claims fundamentally misrepresent what SB 145 does, according to the bill’s authors and outside experts. Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, called the claims “hogwash” in an interview with The Associated Press. “The accusation that it somehow allows pedophilia is simply not true,” Levinson said. If passed, the bill would “bring much-needed parity” to California sex offender registration law, according to a statement from Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who drafted the bill. The bill did face opposition by some lawmakers, including Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who said she thought the 10-year age gap was too broad. The bill passed both houses of the California Legislature and awaits a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

CLAIM: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed using her power to remove the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

THE FACTS: Bowser did not call for the removal of the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. The monuments are on federal land outside the mayor’s jurisdiction, which was reported by the Associated Press on Wednesday. Social media posts making the claim misrepresented a report released Tuesday by the District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions task force. The task force was formed by Bowser during the summer in response to nationwide protests about police brutality. The task force recommended renaming, relocating and adding context to monuments, schools, parks and buildings. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial were named in the report. The Lincoln Memorial was not mentioned, as posts suggested. The mayor has not called for the changes or endorsed them, according to a spokesperson in her office. “Mayor Bowser has asked the DC FACES Working Group to clarify and refine their recommendations to focus on local DC, so no one attempts to confuse the working group’s focus on contextualizing not removing important monuments and memorials in DC,” said LaToya Foster, director of communications for the mayor, in an email. The false posts online received hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The posts suggested the mayor was attempting to erase or rewrite history for the city. Following the backlash, a page reviewing statues and memorials was removed from the report. The White House responded to the task force’s report saying the president would not allow the recommendations to move forward. “As long as President Trump is in the White House, the mayor’s irresponsible recommendations will go absolutely nowhere, and as the mayor of our nation’s capital city — a city that belongs to the American people — she ought to be ashamed for even suggesting them for consideration,” said White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a statement Tuesday. The mayor’s office told the AP that it was interesting that the White House was commenting on “an intragovernmental report about how to recognize all sides of our history.”

— Beatrice Dupuy/Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report


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