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

·12 min read

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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Helicopter videos show Taliban attempt to hang flag, not execution

CLAIM: Video of a man dangling from a helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, shows the Taliban performing a public execution.

THE FACTS: Footage of a man suspended from a helicopter in Afghanistan sparked outrage online this week as social media users, politicians and news outlets alike falsely claimed it showed the Taliban killing someone in a public display. “The Taliban are now hanging people from our left-behind helicopters and flying them around for all to see…” one Twitter user wrote Monday in a post shared nearly 6,000 times. “This is on every single Biden voter.” The video does appear to show the Taliban using a Black Hawk helicopter that was previously used by the Afghan military, according to the markings on the aircraft. However, it shows not a killing, but a Taliban fighter attempting to place a flag on a tall flagpole at the Kandahar governor’s office on Sunday, according to Saadullah Wolesmal and Farid Ahmad Yousuni, two residents of Kandahar who watched the scene as it played out. Wolesmal said the pole was a remnant of the Afghan government, and Afghanistan’s black, red and green flag was previously affixed to it. A Taliban fighter was suspended from a helicopter and tried to affix the Taliban’s white flag to the pole. He did not succeed, Wolesmal and Yousuni said. A close analysis of videos from the scene shows that the man dangling from the helicopter was hanging from a harness, not from his neck, and could be seen waving his arms. Footage from additional angles circulating on social media confirms the man was suspended near a flagpole that matches the poles at the Kandahar governor’s office.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Seattle contributed this report, with additional reporting from Associated Press writer Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul.

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Schools in Ohio suburb aren’t vaccinating kids without parental consent

CLAIM: Schools in the Dayton, Ohio, suburb of Kettering are vaccinating children for COVID-19 without notifying parents or requesting their consent.

THE FACTS: The claim spread by Twitter users — including Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel — this week is bogus and first circulated before students had returned to classes in the district. "You guys, this is Dayton, Ohio, this is Kettering Schools,” a female narrator says in a false, widely circulating TikTok video. “Every parent needs to see this, you need to be aware, because your kids are not safe.” The narrator shows a clip of an Aug. 11 livestream video from InfoWars, a right-wing website that has spread numerous COVID-19 conspiracy theories. The clip features part of an interview with a caller who claims his brother’s daughter got vaccinated at school without her father’s knowledge or consent. The caller says his brother lives in Kettering, Ohio. The claim is “unequivocally false,” said Scott Inskeep, the Kettering City Schools superintendent. “No one in our schools has or EVER would allow ANY minor student to be vaccinated in our schools without the expressed permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian,” Inskeep said in a statement. “When we held our student vaccine clinics last spring, a parent or guardian had to accompany their minor child to the clinic or the vaccine was not administered. Furthermore, this radio program appears to have aired on August 11, the day before we had ANY students in school.” The nearby district of Dayton Public Schools also issued a statement on social media denying claims that it had forced vaccinations on students. It specifically countered social media rumors that any students were taken out of class to be vaccinated on Aug. 13. “This is false,” the statement read. “DPS is not currently in session so students are not yet in class, and at no point would the district force student vaccinations.” COVID-19 vaccines are available for anyone 12 and older in Ohio. Children under 18 who are not emancipated are required to have parental consent for any vaccine, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Mandel’s campaign team did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

— Ali Swenson

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Post makes false claim about FDA approval for Pfizer's shot

CLAIM: There is currently no FDA-approved vial of COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S.

THE FACTS: Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine last week for those 16 and over, posts online are misrepresenting the announcement to falsely claim the vaccine still lacks formal approval. One Instagram post acknowledged the Comirnaty vaccine had received FDA approval, but made the false claim that the only available doses are Pfizer vials that are still just under emergency use authorization. In fact, Comirnaty is the brand name Pfizer is using to market its COVID-19 vaccine and there is no distinction between the two. In December, the FDA granted Pfizer’s vaccine emergency use authorization based on a study of 44,000 people 16 and older who were followed for two months. During public health emergencies, the FDA can issue emergency use authorizations for products that prevent, treat or diagnose a disease. After Pfizer submitted six months of follow up safety data, the FDA granted full approval for those 16 and older to use the vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty. The formulation used in the FDA-approved Comirnaty vaccine is identical to the shot that previously received emergency use authorization. "It’s the same vaccine,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University and former FDA deputy commissioner, told the AP. “There is only one vaccine.” Sharfstein said since some people were waiting for the FDA to grant full approval, last week’s announcement should encourage more vaccinations. Pfizer was already using the Comirnaty name on its vaccine vials and packaging before the vaccine received full approval for people 16 and older on August 23. Pfizer announced in December that it was marketing the vaccine in the European Union under that brand name. A Pfizer news release at the time said the name Comirnaty, “represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity, to highlight the first authorization of a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, as well as the joint global efforts that made this achievement possible with unprecedented rigor and efficiency – and with safety at the forefront – during this global pandemic.” Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines remain under emergency use authorization for teenagers ages 12 through 15, and for immunocompromised individuals receiving a third dose, until Pfizer submits its application and safety data for those groups.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.

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Video of Pelosi supposedly caught on hot mic was manipulated

CLAIM: After President Joe Biden offered to answer questions during a virtual meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caught saying, “We don’t want him to talk.”

THE FACTS: The video clip that appears to show the awkward moment was actually manipulated and was first shared online with a label identifying it as satire. The clip was taken from a video of a March 3 virtual session of the House Democratic Caucus Virtual Issues Conference, where Biden discussed his legislative priorities. Pelosi addressed Biden on a virtual screen. After concluding his remarks, Biden said: “And I’m happy to take questions if that’s what you — I’m supposed to do, Nance. Whatever you want me to do.” In the manipulated video, a voice that sounds similar to Pelosi’s, can be heard saying, “Am I on? No, we don’t want him to talk.” The voice was added to the video. In the actual video, Pelosi did not respond and the screen that showed her cut to a photo of Biden. The original video ends shortly after that. A comedian and voice actor who performs under the name Michael Clive created the altered video as political satire. But some social media users then shared his video without the satire label. “Yes, that’s me, imitating Nancy Pelosi but that Twitter version has been edited,” Clive, who also uses the name Michael Kaminski, told The Associated Press in an email. “The original is labeled satire at the end.” In March, social media users shared a clip from the same event falsely claiming that the feed was cut off so Biden couldn’t answer questions. The video feed that was uploaded online does end after Biden's introductory remarks, but that is because the event was closed to the press during the question and answer period. Biden did take questions, including one about systemic racism and the child tax credit, the AP reported.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.

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Shell oil platform did not break loose during Hurricane Ida

CLAIM: The Shell-operated deep water oil platform known as the “Mars/Olympus” platform has broken loose following Hurricane Ida and is now “free within the Gulf of Mexico.”

THE FACTS: A Facebook account dedicated to sharing weather updates from members of the public, Mississippi Weather Network, erroneously posted on Aug. 29 that the platform had broken loose during the storm but then retracted the post later that day when the information could not be verified. An update on the Facebook page notified readers that page administrators had taken the post down “until further information can be verified by the oil company(ies) in question or U.S. government officials.” The update reads: “We may not always get it right, but we never purposefully get it wrong to mislead anyone." Though the inaccurate post about the storm damage had been taken down, social media users continued sharing screenshots of it. The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a flyover on Aug. 29 that revealed no oil platforms had broken loose, according to an agency statement. Shell also performed its own flyover the next day and confirmed that its Mars, Olympus and Ursa platforms were “all intact and on location.” About 300 offshore platforms were evacuated ahead of Ida, leading to a pause of 80 percent of the gulf’s oil and gas production, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

— Beatrice Dupuy

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Biden didn’t fall asleep during meeting with Israeli Prime Minister

CLAIM: Image shows President Joe Biden sleeping during high-level talks with a foreign head of government.

THE FACTS: In the days following Biden's Aug. 27 meeting with Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett, the false claim appeared on social media despite news coverage showing Biden was awake and engaged. A widely shared post on Facebook shows an image of Biden at the meeting with his head down and his eyes appear to be closed. Under the screenshot, the image says, “Watch: Joe Biden Caught (asterisk)Sleeping(asterisk) During High-Level Talks with Foreign Head of Government.” But image is misleading and the description is false. During a 14-minute video taken during the meeting, Biden does not fall asleep. He looks down at his lap several times, including when he’s listening and reading from his notepad. The image is captured in one of these moments. The two leaders met to discuss a range of topics, including COVID-19 and Iran’s nuclear capabilities. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since Bennett was sworn-in as prime minister in June.

— Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.

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Animals didn’t escape zoo in NJ storm

CLAIM: Images show that a variety of wild animals were loose in South Orange, New Jersey, on Thursday after they escaped overnight from the Turtle Back Zoo amid Hurricane Ida flooding.

THE FACTS: Lions, crocodiles, penguins and gorillas did not roam the streets of South Orange, New Jersey, despite a hoax that was circulating widely the morning after severe flash flooding in the area. “Breaking: Reports of escaped animals circulate throughout South Orange, New Jersey after the TurtleBack Zoo (@TurtleBackZoo) is severely flooded,” a Twitter account impersonating CNN wrote early Thursday morning. “Local authorities advise all South Orange residents to stay home until the animals are returned back to their homes.” The post, which was accompanied by images of animals seemingly wandering loose on city streets, spread to Instagram and Facebook later Thursday. But reverse-image searches prove that the images are old. A photo of a pack of lions wading into a street appeared in reports about India’s Gujarat region in 2019. A photo of penguins gathering on a dark, slick sidewalk hails from South Africa and has circulated online since 2013. A photo of a crocodile stalking toward cars is from coastal Australia in 2019. And an image of an ape-like creature standing in a street has appeared online since 2014, when it sparked both skepticism and bigfoot theories after it was shared in a Facebook group for residents of Anaheim Hills, California. The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey, confirmed the reports were fake Thursday morning, writing on Twitter that zoo staff secured the animals indoors before the downpour. “We appreciate everyone’s concern about our animals and staff during the storm,” the tweet read. “Staff stayed through the night to monitor. There was no loss of power and all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

— Ali Swenson

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The Associated Press

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