Not Real News: Misinformation That’s Spreading Like A Virus

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 real facts:


CLAIM: If you don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to take a $3,200 test for the virus, donate blood because screeners must test donors for the virus.

THE FACTS: Blood banks said they do not test for the novel coronavirus as part of the donation process, and they caution that people should not go to donation centers if they fear they have been exposed to it. “We do a whole range of testing on blood donations as required by the FDA, but screening or testing for coronavirus is not happening,” said Kate Fry, chief executive officer of America’s Blood Centers, a North American network of nonprofit blood centers. The network oversees more than 600 blood collection sites. Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, told the AP that screeners do not test for the coronavirus as part of the process. “The last thing we would want is for people who are not healthy coming just to try to get tested,” she said. A tweet claiming blood banks would test people for the virus received more than 250,000 likes this week before it was deleted Wednesday and the person who posted it apologized. Still, the false information continued to circulate on Facebook. The Red Cross has instituted safety protocols and asks those who have traveled in coronavirus outbreak areas, including China and Italy, to wait 28 days before giving blood. Young added there is no data or evidence that coronavirus or respiratory viruses can be transmitted through blood transfusions.


CLAIM: As the weather gets warmer, mosquitoes will spread the coronavirus after they bite people who are infected.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that mosquitoes transmit coronavirus. The World Health Organization addresses the claim on their “myth busters” page, saying: “To date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes.” The novel coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. The false mosquito claim spread across social media platforms, including on TikTok, where one post received more than one million likes.


CLAIM: There is a simple self-check that can be done every morning to see if you have the coronavirus. Take a deep breath and hold it for more than 10 seconds. If you complete it successfully without discomfort, stuffiness or tightness it proves there is no fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicating no infection.

THE FACTS: Medical experts say that the test would not provide a clear indication of whether someone has the virus. The claim, which has three parts, first says that if a coronavirus patient goes to the hospital too late their lungs will experience 50 percent fibrosis, scarring of the lungs that restricts breathing. It then suggests the 10 second breathing test, finally stating that drinking water every 15 minutes will kill the virus. Social media users have falsely attributed the claims to Japanese doctors, Taiwanese experts and Stanford University. Lisa Kim, Stanford Health Care and school of medicine spokeswoman, said in an email that the widely distributed breathing test claim did not come from Stanford University. Despite medical experts and even the World Health Organization debunking these claims, people continue to share them on and off social media. Dr. Robert Legare Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Associated Press that there is no clear evidence that coronavirus causes 50 percent pulmonary fibrosis. Experts also said that the 10 second test being shared online would not be a reliable way to determine whether someone has the virus. “This approach may be helpful in identifying persons with more serious lung disease,” Atmar said. “But it will not identify persons who are infected and have mild to no symptoms.” There are many things beyond coronavirus that could lead to restricted breathing, including asthma, anxiety or heart disease, said Dr. Gregory Poland, head of vaccine research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Also, while staying hydrated by drinking water is important for overall health, it does not prevent coronavirus, according to the WHO.


CLAIM: Actor Daniel Radcliffe tested positive for coronavirus.

THE FACTS: Radcliffe, known widely for his role in the Harry Potter film series, does not have coronavirus despite posts sharing that claim Tuesday. A Twitter account made to closely resemble a BBC News account, with the handle @BBCNewsTonight, spread the claim, which was later retweeted by social media users, including celebrities on their verified accounts. Scott Boute, who represents Radcliffe, told The Associated Press in an email that the claim was not true. Screenshots of the tweet with the claim continued to circulate on Facebook after the false Tweet was taken down. “Breaking: Daniel Radcliffe tests positive for coronavirus,” the tweet reads. “The actor is said to be the first famous person to be publicly confirmed.” The tweet from the impostor account included a link that took users to a BBC News Alerts page with posts from 2017. The fake account had about 125 followers; the verified BBC Breaking News Twitter account has 41.7 million. A Twitter spokesperson told the AP that the account was suspended for violating Twitter’s rules on platform manipulation. Jemimah Norman, a spokesperson for the BBC, also confirmed to the AP that the tweet was from an account not affiliated with the BBC.


CLAIM: Photo shows the actor Tom Hanks quarantined at a hospital in Australia with a volleyball that looks like Wilson, his make-believe friend in the movie “Cast Away.”

THE FACTS: The photo was manipulated. It was not taken in Australia where Hanks and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, were hospitalized Thursday in stable condition. Users began sharing the manipulated photo on social media shortly after Hanks announced he and his wife had tested positive for the virus. In the fabricated photo, Hanks holds a white volleyball made to resemble Wilson, the inanimate object that became his best friend in “Castaway,” a movie about a FedEx executive who was stranded on an island after a plane crash. The photo appears to have been taken in a hospital. The image of the 63-year-old was taken at a New York Rangers game in 2015 and can be found online. The image of Hanks was placed in a European Pressphoto Agency photo of a hospital room. “The Australian government says Christmas Island has the best available facilities,” states the caption on the original hospital photo, which does not include Hanks. Social media users shared the fabricated photo with posts saying that hospital staff in Australia had brought Hanks the volleyball to keep him company in quarantine. It first circulated as satire. Hanks is in Australia shooting an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann. Hanks shared the news about his positive tests on Instagram and Twitter on Wednesday.


CLAIM: President Donald Trump tweeted on Feb. 25, 2015: “If the Dow Joans ever falls more than 1000 ‘points’ in a Single Day the sitting president should be ‘loaded’ into a very big cannon and Shot into the sun at TREMENDOUS SPEED! No excuses!”

THE FACTS: The tweet was not written by Trump. It was fabricated and it was first posted in 2018, not 2015. Social media users recirculated a screenshot of the fabricated tweet Monday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 2,013 points. It was created in 2018 to make it appear Trump tweeted it when Barack Obama was president. The steep drop in the Dow, following concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus and a crash in oil prices, led to an automatic halt in trading on the New York Stock Exchange, a step that had not been taken in two decades. Shaun Usher, author and blogger, first shared the post in 2018 as a joke and later said he did not intend for his tweet to be taken seriously. On Monday, he addressed the tweet again after retweeting a Snopes fact check of the tweet. The screenshot of the false tweet was shared on Twitter and Facebook where it received thousands of likes. Many of the posts shared the false image with comments suggesting that Trump’s words were coming back to haunt him. Trump did tweet about the stock market on Monday, writing: “Saudi Arabia and Russia are arguing over the price and flow of oil. That, and the Fake News, is the reason for the market drop!”


CLAIM: Billionaire philanthropist George Soros owns Smartmatic voting machines. Don’t throw your vote away if you live in a state that uses them. Ask for a paper ballot. Under federal law the polling place must provide one.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Soros, who donates to liberal political causes, does not own Smartmatic, a company that specializes in voting technology. A post circulating on Facebook featuring a photo of Soros and titled “Defeat Election Fraud” falsely claims he owns the company and names 16 states as places that use them. Three of the states — Michigan, Missouri and Washington — were holding primaries on Tuesday. Similar false claims have circulated previously with posts dating as far back as 2016. Michigan has three voting system vendors approved for the state, which are Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software and Hart InterCivic. Samira Saba, a spokeswoman for Smartmatic, told The Associated Press in an email that Los Angeles County is currently the company’s only client in the U.S. While the chairman of SmartMatics and the SGO Group, Mark Malloch-Brown, serves on the Open Society Foundations Global Board — founded by George Soros — SmartMatics is not owned by Soros himself, despite what the post circulating widely on social media suggested. The company’s website noted that “George Soros does not have and has never had any ownership stake in Smartmatic.” Smartmatic took part in its first U.S. election during the 2005-06 election cycle, when it offered its services to 16 states, according to their website.


CLAIM: Video shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign event in St. Louis, Missouri, endorsing Republican President Donald Trump, saying “we can only re-elect Donald Trump!”

THE FACTS: A video viewed millions of times on Facebook and Twitter does not show Biden mistakenly endorsing Trump, and he was talking to supporters in Kansas City, Missouri — not St. Louis. A full review of Biden’s 15-minute speech at the Saturday rally, which was broadcast by local news stations, shows he stumbled over his words as he urged the crowd to reject negative attacks in the Democratic primary contests. “We cannot win this re-election, excuse me, we can only re-elect Donald Trump, if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here,” Biden said to the crowd. Social media accounts clipped the last part of his sentence about engaging in “this circular firing squad here,” making it sound as though Biden had accidentally endorsed Trump. The video was circulated by Trump, multiple accounts managed by his campaign and his supporters. Various versions of the video had been viewed more than 10 million times by Monday afternoon.


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.



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