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

A customer pumps gasoline into his car on Feb. 19 at a Sam's Club fuel island in Gulfport, Miss. On Friday, March 18, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming the Green New Deal is causing gas prices to spike. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

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. Here are the facts:

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CLAIM: Members of Congress gave themselves a 21% pay raise in early March.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting a government spending bill that increased funding for legislative office budgets — which members of Congress use to hire and pay staff and cover other official expenses — not lawmakers’ salaries. Congress on March 10 approved the bipartisan $1.5 trillion government spending bill, financing federal agencies through the rest of the fiscal year and providing $13.6 billion to help Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. After President Joe Biden signed the bill into law, many social media users began falsely claiming it included a 21% pay bump for federal lawmakers. “Congress gave themselves a 21% raise,” read a widely shared tweet. “They need an extra 30+ grand a year but they won’t raise minimum wage from $7.25 an hour?” But the bill doesn’t at all change Congress members’ salaries, which have stayed the same at $174,000 a year since 2009, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. A summary of the bill from Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee says the bill prevents “any pay increases in FY22” for members of Congress. Instead, the bill includes $774.4 million for the Members Representational Allowance, a budget that allows every House member to hire and pay legislative staff and manage other official expenses. That $774.4 million number is $134.4 million higher, or 21% more, than the fiscal year 2021 budget provided for the same purpose, according to a report from the House Appropriations Committee. The House Ethics Committee explains on its website that members of Congress may only use the Members Representational Allowance budget for “ordinary and necessary expenses” incurred as part of a member’s official duties. “The MRA may not be used to pay for any expenses related to activities or events that are primarily social in nature, personal expenses, campaign or political expenses, or House committee expenses,” the committee’s website says. Top Democrats in the House said the higher MRA funding will help lawmakers recruit and retain staff who have been leaving for more competitive opportunities. About 1 in 8 Washington-based congressional staffers made less than a living wage in 2020, according to an analysis of salary data by Issue One, a bipartisan advocacy group.

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

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CLAIM: The Green New Deal is causing gas prices to spike.

THE FACTS: The Green New Deal, a broad plan intended to address climate change, has not been enacted into law and is not impacting gas prices, experts say. But posts claiming that the increase in U.S. gas prices is due to the regulations associated with the Green New Deal have circulated widely on social media in recent days. “It’s Not Russia (they supply just 3% of our oil.),” a Facebook user wrote last week. “It’s’ not the oil companies, It Is the GREEN NEW DEAL regulations. They are lying to us…” The claim is false. The Green New Deal, a sweeping plan backed by some Democrats to address climate change, has not been enacted by the federal government, experts told The Associated Press. “It’s like blaming what’s happening in the world on a boogeyman that doesn’t exist,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “That’s not correct.” The Green New Deal, which originally existed as a nonbinding resolution, called for a “10-year national mobilization” to move the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels and replace them with renewable sources, the AP reported in March 2019. But the resolution didn’t pass Congress. Wara noted that Build Back Better, President Joe Biden’s roughly $2 trillion spending plan, included provisions that were inspired by the Green New Deal, such as rebates for electric vehicles. However, the spending plan has been stalled in Congress for months. Amy Myers Jaffe, a research professor and managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University, said that high gas prices are not being caused by other federal climate change-oriented policies, either. There are many reasons gasoline prices have pushed higher. The biggest driver is the price of crude oil, which 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 lull in demand are struggling to keep up. And 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. Global oil prices have climbed even higher as Russia, a major oil supplier to the world, invaded Ukraine and many buyers shunned Russian crude, reducing the viable global oil supply. “The current spike in gasoline prices is tied to the spike in global crude oil prices. Global crude oil production dropped during COVID and has been relatively slow to recover for a number of reasons, none of which are Green Deal related,” Robert Johnston, an adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, wrote in an email to the AP. “The key reasons include OPEC production policy, extremely strong demand post-COVID, low inventories, and now the major geopolitical disruption in Russia,” Johnston added.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report with additional reporting from Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz.

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CLAIM: Pfizer has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

THE FACTS: Drug maker Pfizer Inc., which produces a COVID-19 vaccine, has not been removed from the NYSE, a company spokesperson confirmed. Many social media users cited a specific U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission form as proof that Pfizer has been removed from the stock exchange. The form features the text, “NOTIFICATION OF REMOVAL FROM LISTING AND/OR REGISTRATION.” “PFIZER delisting from NYSE. How is this not much bigger news? This means they know they will crash!!! Share,” said a tweet that shared an image of the form. Another tweet posted on Monday states, “Pay attention – this is important: 3/07/2022: Pfizer requests to be delisted from the NY Stock Exchange.” But the claims are false. The form being shared on social media actually concerns the delisting of a debt security, which is tradeable corporate debt, similar to a bond. The form was filed by the NYSE on March 7. “The 0.250% Notes due 2022 were euro denominated notes that were paid in full on March 7, 2022 in accordance with their terms and maturity date,” the Pfizer spokesperson wrote, referring to Pfizer’s debt security. “As a result, the 0.250% Notes due 2022 are no longer outstanding and thus are delisted from the NYSE.” In other words, once the debt is paid off, it is delisted. The spokesperson added that Pfizer’s common stock continues “to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.” Ludwig Chincarini, a professor of finance at the University of San Francisco, told The Associated Press that corporate debt trading is common, though it typically isn’t conducted in exchanges and is done in the “over the counter market.” “Companies issue debt all the time because they borrow,” he said. “It’s another form of financing.” “What happens is the notes matured, they’re done, so the exchange has to remove them and they have to inform the SEC,” Chincarini added. The Securities and Exchange Commission did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.

— Josh Kelety

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CLAIM: A recent video shows sacred Christian materials being transferred from a Kyiv cathedral to a secure bunker.

THE FACTS: The video dates back to at least 2015 and shows a Ukrainian funeral procession, not the transfer of a Christian sacrament to a bunker for safekeeping. Amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, some social media users are miscaptioning the somber video of a funeral procession from several years ago to suggest it shows recent footage of a religious ceremony in the embattled Ukrainian capital. Set to folk music, the blurry clip follows a procession of cars driving through a town as people kneel along the streets. A Twitter user shared it last week, falsely claiming it showed the “Blessed Sacrament” — a reference to the consecrated bread or wine used to celebrate Communion in some Christian denominations — being evacuated from a cathedral. The user, who identifies themself in their Twitter bio as deacon, wrote: “Transfer of the Blessed Sacrament from Kyiv Cathedral to a bunker.” The post received more than 3,000 retweets and 11,000 likes. But the video was taken years before the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and does not show the transfer of sacraments. The same footage was posted online in April 2015 and again on YouTube in November 2015. The longer 8-minute video shows a car procession flanked by crowds of people kneeling and watching as it passes. Eventually, the cars stop and a casket is carried through a crowd. While the video does not state where the footage was captured, several people can be seen waving Ukrainian flags. One of the cars also displays a Ukrainian license plate with a code for Lviv, though it’s unclear whether that’s where the footage was filmed. Text displayed at the beginning of the video states: “Ukrainians meet the cyborg hero who died at the hands of the Russian occupiers,” and text at the end reads, in part: “Glory to the heroes of Ukraine.” The term “cyborg” has been used to describe a group of Ukrainian soldiers who fought at an airport in the Donetsk region during attacks in 2014.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.

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CLAIM: Florida, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has eliminated its tax on gas.

THE FACTS: Florida’s longstanding state gas tax has not been repealed. In reality, Florida lawmakers approved a plan to temporarily suspend the gas tax for one month in October 2022. Posts claiming that Florida has eliminated its gas tax have circulated widely on social media platforms in recent days. “Florida just eliminated their State Tax on Gas!!! Red State leading the way…,” said a tweet posted on Tuesday with more than 27,000 likes. But Florida has not eliminated local gas taxes. Social media users are misrepresenting a plan that was recently approved by Florida lawmakers that would suspend gas taxes this year for the month of October. The provision is part of a $112.1 billion state budget that was approved by lawmakers on Monday, The Associated Press reported. The cost of the one-month suspension will be paid for by federal coronavirus relief dollars. Republicans have said that lawmakers chose October, a month before statewide elections, because there are usually less tourists in Florida then. Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed group that scrutinizes state spending, said that the gas tax has existed for decades and hasn’t been eliminated. “It’s misinformation, it’s not correct. We will suspend it for one month, the month of October 2022,” Calabro told the AP. “All we passed was a one-month reprieve,” said Democratic Florida state Sen. Annette Taddeo. “The gas tax is still here.” Bethany Wester, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Revenue, wrote in an email to the AP that the temporary gas tax suspension will “affect anyone who purchases motor fuel in Florida during the exemption period.” Republican Gov. DeSantis had originally called for a five-month suspension of the state’s gas tax in response to inflation he blamed on Democratic President Joe Biden, the AP reported. With gas prices in the U.S. hitting record highs, governors and lawmakers in other states have also called for suspending fuel taxes.

— Josh Kelety

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