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

  • FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 file photo, Buildings in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada are obscured due to the heavy smoke in the air from the wildfires burning south of the border. On Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting maps of recent wildfires in the Pacific Northwest show the fires stop abruptly at the Canadian border. Maps circulating on social media with this claim include only American data. Canada has its own fire mapping system, which shows there are fires burning in British Columbia, just north of the western U.S. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • FILE - This 2020 electron microscope made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention image shows the spherical coronavirus particles from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. On Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting COVID-19 is a man-made virus intentionally manufactured in a lab and released to the public. Scientists say the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 rules out the possibility that the virus was created in a lab. (C.S. Goldsmith, A. Tamin/CDC via AP)

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden steps off a plane at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., on a visit for campaign events. On Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting a video of Biden deplaning here shows him waving to an empty field. An Associated Press reporter traveling with Biden on Tuesday confirmed he was waving to firefighters and other ground personnel outside the frame of the video. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Aroundup 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.

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Here are the facts:

CLAIM: Maps of recent wildfires in the Pacific Northwest show the fires stop abruptly at the Canadian border.

THE FACTS: Social media posts this week noted what seemed like a curious phenomenon: Wildfire maps show the blazes stretch across much of the western United States, but end at the Canadian border. Facebook users joked that the fires must “lack Canadian passports” and called it a “geographical oddity.” A Twitter user in Canada said he was “gratified to see” that climate change stops at the 49th parallel. “Must be that carbon tax,” he wrote. The maps were also shared by Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent for Newsmax. “If the fires in Oregon & Washington are ‘climate change’ then why do the fires stop at the Canadian border?” she tweeted. The answer is that these maps only show American data. Canada has its own fire mapping system, which shows there are fires burning in British Columbia, just north of the western U.S. One map shared in several social media posts, for example, is a “USA Wildfires” map from the geographic information system software supplier Esri. It shows more than 100 wildfires in the western United States but doesn’t display Canada’s fires. Canadians are seeing some fires, and have also endured unhealthy air quality levels as strong winds blow smoke and ash particles from U.S. fires to the north. But British Columbia’s wildfire season has been less severe than that of Washington, Oregon and California this year thanks to cooler and wetter conditions in that part of Canada this summer, according to Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia. Scientists say climate change has contributed to more intense wildfires in both countries in recent years. “This is everywhere,” Daniels said. “We’re all experiencing extreme temperatures, extreme droughts, extreme fires driven by those droughts, and they are the hallmarks of climate change.”

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson contributed this report

CLAIM: CDC warns that non-N95 masks will do nothing to protect you from wildfire smoke because “they do not catch small particles.” Smoke particles are larger than those of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, so masks do not work.

THE FACTS: Cloth and surgical masks are designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by catching respiratory droplets coming from the person wearing the mask. Respiratory droplets are larger than smoke particles. Social media posts are misrepresenting information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding masks and wildfires to claim that masks do not work. The CDC recently updated its guidance on wildfires to include information about the coronavirus. On the page titled “Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19,” the agency said cloth masks would not protect anyone from wildfire smoke. “Cloth masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health,” the agency said. Online posts are using that information to say if smoke particles are larger than those of the coronavirus, then how could masks be effective in stopping COVID-19. “Mask won’t prevent smoke inhalation. But keep thinking they are protecting you from a virus,” one post on Facebook said. The posts were shared across Facebook and Twitter. Such posts miss the point of wearing cloth or surgical masks. “If the wearer has a respiratory droplet that has a virus, facial coverings keep that droplet from going out into the area around them which is why facial coverings are recommended when people are not social distancing,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “It’s never been designed to protect the person wearing the mask.” N95 masks are engineered to protect against inhaling very small particles about 0.3 microns in size and larger, making them effective against smoke and virus particles, said Dr. Jonathan Parsons, a pulmonologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Wildfire particles are up to 2.5 microns. A coronavirus particle is about 0.125 microns in size. “Cloth masks and surgical masks are not designed to protect you against particles that small, so the smoke goes through,” Parsons said. “Respiratory droplets are much larger than the harmful materials in the wildfire smoke.” Parsons recommends wearing cloth and surgical masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 in wildfire areas even if they do not protect against smoke particles.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy contributed this report

CLAIM: Video of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden deplaning at a Tampa, Fla., campaign stop shows him waving to an empty field.

THE FACTS: An Associated Press reporter traveling with Biden on Tuesday confirmed he was waving to firefighters and other ground personnel outside the frame of the video. In the video, taken from a Fox News report, Biden points to his right and waves as he steps from the plane in Tampa, but only an empty field can be seen in the distance. A woman in the background of the video laughs and makes fun of Biden, yelling, “Who’s he waving to? There’s nobody there. He thinks he’s Trump.” Versions of the same video also appeared on YouTube and various conservative blogs, and were viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook. Beyond the AP’s account, a Bloomberg News reporter posted video of the scene from a different angle, capturing four people standing near a fire truck and other personnel on the runway.

— Ali Swenson

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CLAIM: McDonald’s removed its American flags nationwide in support of antifa and Black Lives Matter.

THE FACTS: A McDonald’s USA spokesperson confirmed this claim is not true and there is no coordinated effort to remove American flags from its restaurants. Twitter and Facebook users this week spread a false rumor about America’s largest fast-food chain. “McDonald’s removes their American flags in support of Antifa & BLM nationwide,” the posts read. A Facebook post added the hashtag “#boycottMcDonalds.” A McDonald’s spokesperson told the Associated Press there is no truth to this claim. In addition, there is no evidence in news reports or other publications that any such action is being taken. The company recently published a statement on its website saying that Black lives matter and announcing donations to the National Urban League and the NAACP. It also announced a new diversity and inclusion initiative on July 30. McDonald’s has not published any public statements about antifa, short for anti-fascist, an umbrella term for left-leaning militant groups that oppose white supremacists at protests. “McDonald’s unequivocally stands behind the need for equality and social justice, and these rumors are not true,” the company told the Associated Press in a statement.

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