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

  • Gas prices are displayed at a gas station Thursday in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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:

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CLAIM: People who have received COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are at a greater risk of dying from the virus.

THE FACTS: Research shows the opposite – booster shots reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, experts said. Footage circulating widely on social media recently shows a doctor telling Tennessee lawmakers that people who get vaccine booster shots are at a higher risk of death from the coronavirus. In the clip, Dr. Richard Urso testifies on March 1 at the House Health Subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly on a bill that would ban private businesses and public agencies from enacting rules that treat people considered to have natural immunity from COVID-19 differently from those who are vaccinated. “If you look at the studies in England, in Scotland, and in northern countries in Europe where they get real data, that there, actually, the triple vaccinated are the most likely to die,” said Urso, a Houston-based ophthalmologist. The video of Urso’s testimony has spread across social media platforms. But the claim is false. No credible evidence has been presented showing that people who get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are more likely to die, medical and immunology experts told the AP. “There’s really nothing that supports that assertion,” said Francesca Torriani, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “It has to be categorized as misinformation.” Ross Kedl, a professor of immunology and biology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said the data shows the “exact opposite” of Urso’s claim. Kedl cited a March 2022 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that booster doses “substantially increased protection” against the omicron variant. “I’ve never seen anything that shows an increased risk of mortality for individuals with the third dose and repeated doses to the vaccines,” said Robert Carpenter, a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University College of Medicine. “That’s completely false based upon all of the data that is available, everything that I’ve seen both in the U.S. and outside it from reputable sources.” Carpenter cited data published in January 2022 by the U.K. Health Security Agency that determined booster shots significantly reduce the risk of death caused by the omicron coronavirus variant. He also pointed to a December 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that people who received a booster shot had “90% lower mortality” due to COVID-19 than those who did not get a booster. Urso did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.

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CLAIM: Gas prices are skyrocketing because oil production has been “shut down” in the United States.

THE FACTS: Oil production has not been “shut down” in the U.S., and gas prices are rising for several reasons, including higher demand after the easing of pandemic restrictions, multiple experts told the AP. But as prices at the pump hit a record high on Tuesday, social media users shared a graphic made on, which tracks gas prices nationally, to falsely claim the increases are the result of a shutdown in U.S. oil production by President Joe Biden. “BIDEN SHUT DOWN OUR PRODUCTION SO NOW WE DEPEND ON OTHERS,” said one Facebook post, sharing the graphic which tracked the average retail price of gasoline over an 18 month period ending in February 2022. It shows prices increasing from the end of November 2020, the month Biden was elected president, through the end of February 2022. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said the graphic was not created by his company, although the numbers used are accurate. He and other experts say the reasons behind rising gas prices are being misrepresented. First, there has not been a shutdown of oil production. The U.S. was producing 11.185 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2021, compared with an average of 11.283 million barrels per day in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The latest data shows that for the week of March 4, 2022, the U.S. is producing 11.6 million barrels per day. The U.S. remains the world’s biggest producer of crude oil, said Mark Finley, a fellow in energy and global oil at Rice University in Houston. One of the main reasons gasoline prices have pushed higher is because the price of crude oil has been rising over the past year. As more people get on the road after being cooped up during the pandemic, oil and gas suppliers that had scaled back production during the pandemic are struggling to keep up. Decisions by the OPEC+ oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to only modestly increase the oil they released to the market kept prices high. Aiming to reduce prices, Biden and leaders of other oil importing countries decided to release more oil from strategic reserves, but those actions had little impact. Then Russia, a major oil supplier, invaded Ukraine, and prices globally took a steeper climb. Top Republicans blame Biden, and assail the White House for promoting climate change-fighting environmental measures that they said helped drive fuel prices up. Some in the oil and gas industry say that Biden’s policies, including revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit, have discouraged companies from drilling. But in fact, oil and gas drilling has increased under Biden. His administration did issue an executive order to pause oil and gas drilling on federal land in January 2021. But a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that decision in June. “I will reaffirm that President Biden’s policies coming into the White House did not help. But overall what is the active player in driving price? It’s this huge pandemic recovery coupled with the current events with Russia,” De Haan said.

— Associated Press writers Karena Phan and Cathy Bussewitz in New York contributed this report.

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CLAIM: Photo shows a gas station charging $9 per gallon in California.

THE FACTS: Customers were not charged that price. A store manager at the Arco gas station — which is located in Stockton, California — said dollar amounts over $9 were briefly displayed on its sign on March 3 after a new pricing device was installed. Frustrated Americans have posted dozens of photos of gas station signs on social media this week as the national average gas price soared to a record $4.32 per gallon, according to AAA. But some of the posts driving outrage online are exaggerating fuel prices by presenting the images without important context. The image of the the Stockton gas station, showed a sign with $9 per gallon listed for unleaded gasoline for cash-paying customers, and even higher prices for other fuels and services. The image spread on various online forums, with internet users decrying the high cost. “Gasoline jumped to $9/gallon (3.8 litres) in California,” wrote one Twitter user who shared the image. However, the photograph actually shows the sign undergoing an update, not displaying real prices. An analysis of features in the image revealed the station pictured is located at 1206 East March Lane in Stockton. A manager who answered the phone at that location and identified herself as Danielle Reed on March 10 said the sign had only briefly displayed prices above $9 per gallon after the installation of a new pricing device on March 3. “Just for a moment, like maybe three minutes, the prices on the sign changed to $9,” she said. “Because it’s a new device, I had to punch in the right numbers.” That station charged $4.69 per gallon on March 3 in a transaction involving a card affiliated with the travel and fuel price tracking app GasBuddy, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. Reed said the station’s per-gallon price for regular gas on March 10 was $5.19 for customers paying with cash and $5.29 for customers using credit cards.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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CLAIM: Wisconsin is on the verge of decertifying the results of the 2020 presidential election based on the findings of a former state Supreme Court justice’s interim report to state lawmakers.

THE FACTS: Wisconsin isn’t about to do any such thing, and even top Republicans say it can’t happen. Still, social media users have falsely suggested decertification is on the horizon after Michael Gableman, who was hired by the Wisconsin Assembly’s top Republican to investigate the 2020 election, issued an interim report to state lawmakers that ignored some key facts. Gableman’s report spun a misleading narrative of illegal activity, pushed claims of widespread election fraud without specific evidence and encouraged the state to take a “very hard look” at decertifying the election. But nonpartisan attorneys who work for the Legislature told lawmakers in both November 2020 after Trump’s loss and again a year later that decertification is not legal. Republican legislative leaders have repeatedly cited those memos as reasons why they will not pursue any attempt to reverse awarding the state’s 10 electoral votes to Biden, even as Republican Rep. Timothy Ramthun, a candidate for governor, has attempted to get his colleagues to decertify the vote. In response to Gableman’s report, Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke reiterated his previous stance that the move would be unconstitutional and illegal under Wisconsin law. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who hired Gableman, on Tuesday told the AP he did not want to “keep litigating 2020” or focus efforts on “something that cannot occur.” And even Gableman, in his own report, said the move would not remove Biden from office. President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes, and recounts, a state audit and court challenges have upheld the results. The Wisconsin Elections Commission on March 4 issued a seven-page rebuttal to Gableman’s report, calling his major findings inaccurate and insisting the state’s election was conducted fairly and accurately. Gableman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

— Ali Swenson contributed this report with additional reporting from Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin.

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CLAIM: Footage of a person moving under a “body bag” shows misleading news coverage of the war in Ukraine.

THE FACTS: The video shows protesters participating in a climate change-related demonstration in Austria in early February, and has no connection to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Television news coverage of the protest that has been misrepresented online in the past has circulated widely again in recent days, with social media users falsely claiming that the video shows reporting on the conflict in Ukraine. In the clip, a reporter speaks directly into the camera while standing in front of what appear to be black body bags arranged on the ground in rows. One person can be seen moving underneath the material. “Ukrainian TV reporting on dead bodies, one corpse decided to fix its body bag,” one Twitter user who shared the clip wrote on Friday. Another iteration of the video circulating widely has been edited to add audio from a real news report on Ukraine and a chyron reading: “UKRAINIAN HEALTH MINISTRY: 57 DEAD, 169 HURT ACROSS UKRAINE AS RUSSIA LAUNCHES ATTACK.” The audio is taken from a Feb. 24 English-language NBC News report on Russia’s invasion, and captures correspondent Cal Perry saying that “at least 59 people” had been killed. As the AP reported in February, the original footage actually shows authentic news coverage of a climate change protest that was recorded on Feb. 4, 2022, in central Vienna, the capital of Austria. The Austrian news station Oe24 was covering protesters who argued that the country’s government was not doing enough to reduce emissions. A translation of the original news chyron on the clip reads “Vienna: demo against climate policy.” The reporter says in German that the protest was organized by Fridays for Future, a climate justice group. According to the Oe24 reporter, the 49 covered bodies represented the number of people the group predicts will die every day due to the consequences of climate change. The video has been misrepresented online in the past, as the AP has previously reported. In February, some social media users falsely claimed it showed crisis actors posing as people who died due to COVID-19.

— Josh Kelety contributed this report with Associated Press writers Beatrice Dupuy in New York and Frank Jordans in Berlin.

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