NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
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:
Photo altered to include judge who approved Mar-a-Lago warrant
CLAIM: A photo shows Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein who was convicted of sex trafficking, with U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart, the judge who approved the FBI search warrant for Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
THE FACTS: This image has been manipulated by combining two separate, unrelated photos. Social media users are sharing the manipulated image that puts Reinhart and Maxwell together, making it appear she is rubbing his foot as he holds a bottle of bourbon and package of Oreos. “Ghislaine Maxwell and Judge Bruce Reinhart… looking awful cozy!” read one tweet of the image shared by hundreds. But reverse image searches show that the original photo of Maxwell was with Epstein, not Reinhart. That photo was released in 2021 as evidence in her trial and published by various news outlets. Maxwell was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for helping Epstein sexually abuse underage girls. The AP identified the photo of Reinhart on a Facebook profile under his name. The caption indicates he was watching a football game. The manufactured image is circulating amid attention on Reinhart for approving the FBI search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Reinhart is a former federal prosecutor and has served as a magistrate in West Palm Beach, Florida, since March 2018. Reinhart did at one point represent associates of Epstein. For example, court records reviewed by the AP show he was an attorney for Sarah Kellen, Epstein’s personal assistant. The search at Mar-a-Lago was part of an investigation into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, according to people familiar with the matter, the AP reported.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
Monkeypox wasn’t found in Georgia drinking water
CLAIM: A news report shows that monkeypox has been detected in drinking water.
THE FACTS: The clip comes from an Atlanta-area news broadcast explaining how wastewater — not drinking water — can be tested for evidence of monkeypox’s spread. But the July 26 broadcast is being mischaracterized online to push the false claim that monkeypox has been found in residents’ tap water. The video shows a reporter explaining that the public works department in Fulton County, which encompasses Atlanta, is launching new efforts to try to detect monkeypox in the community. While the news report is playing in the video, a viewer filming their TV screen can be heard in the background saying “there’s monkeypox in the water.” TikTok and Twitter users are sharing the clip out of context to suggest it means that drinking water is contaminated or being intentionally tampered with. But the county’s tests have nothing to do with drinking water, nor did they reveal that the virus had been found in that supply. “The testing that we’re doing in wastewater for monkeypox DNA is completely separate from drinking water,” said Marlene Wolfe, an environmental microbiologist and epidemiologist at Atlanta’s Emory University, who is involved in the testing initiative. “We have not tested drinking water, we are not planning to test drinking water, we don’t have any expectations or concerns about monkeypox spreading through drinking water.” Experts say monkeypox is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact such as sexual activity, or contact with items that previously touched an infected person’s rash or body fluids. Dr. Mark Slifka, a microbiology and immunology expert and professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, confirmed that “there is really no way” that monkeypox can be transmitted through drinking water. “Historically, there has been no evidence of monkeypox spread through drinking water and currently during this global outbreak, there is absolutely no evidence for monkeypox being spread through drinking water,” Slifka wrote in an email. Wolfe said that people infected with monkeypox excrete virus DNA through skin lesions, saliva, feces and urine, which, much like COVID-19, can enter wastewater through sewage that is produced after showering, flushing toilets and more. That water can be tested using PCR technology to determine whether certain viruses are being spread. This method has also been widely used for earlier detection of new COVID-19 waves. Data released after the news report found that wastewater samples from two areas in Fulton County have tested positive for monkeypox. Meanwhile, drinking water comes from separate reservoirs that go through different quality and treatment processes to make it drinkable. “That’s a totally different department. We only handle wastewater,” said Patrick Person, a Fulton County water quality manager. He added that wastewater is also eventually sanitized before being returned to the environment.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.
Tweet misrepresents Kenyan president’s speech
CLAIM: Video shows outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly admitting that his deputy president, William Ruto, will win the presidential elections on Aug. 9.
THE FACTS: A tweet in English gave an incorrect description of the video, where Kenyatta speaks his mother tongue, Kikuyu. Kenyans headed to the polls on Tuesday to select a successor to Kenyatta, who has spent a decade in power. One candidate in the race is Raila Odinga, an opposition leader, who is backed by Kenyatta, his former rival. The other candidate is Ruto, Kenyatta’s deputy who fell out with the president. While Kenyatta was commissioning a dam project last week in Gatundu, a town in Kiambu County, he addressed the crowd from a car’s sunroof on Aug. 1. A Twitter user shared a video of Kenyatta’s speech and provided a false description in English: “President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly admits that DP@WilliamsRuto will WIN the August 9, Elections,” the tweet states. The AP translated the video, confirming that Kenyatta does not mention that Ruto will win. Instead, Kenyatta cautioned people against voting for Ruto. Kenyatta encouraged residents to vote for leaders allied with Odinga, a tweet from Kenya’s State House notes. “You are told to refuse us because they claim they are hustlers and they will bring you this and that,” Kenyatta said in the video. “Ask yourself what you are given. And when someone enters that house they look at you with a mean eye,” he continued, referring to the State House, the official residence of Kenya’s president. Ruto often refers to himself as a “hustler” who rose from humble beginnings, compared to Kenyatta and Odinga, who have elite backgrounds, the AP has reported. Multiple media outlets in Kenya also reported on the speech and made no mention of Kenyatta telling residents Ruto will win.
WHO chief is vaccinated against COVID-19, contrary to false claim
CLAIM: Video shows World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying he isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19.
THE FACTS: The clip is from a documentary and shows part of an interview, filmed weeks after Ghebreyesus was vaccinated, in which he says at one point that he waited for better global vaccine equity before receiving his own shot. But the clip is circulating on social media without context to falsely claim that it shows the WHO leader expressing that he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. “Tedros not jabbed?” reads one tweet, which garnered more than 8,000 likes. The 35-second clip shows a portion of a 2021 interview of Tedros by Jon Cohen, a writer for the publication Science. The interview was included in a documentary, “ How to Survive a Pandemic,” which runs more than 100 minutes. The clip shows Cohen asking Ghebreyesus when he was vaccinated, and then cuts to the WHO director-general responding: “You know, still I feel like I know where I belong: in a poor country called Ethiopia, in a poor continent called Africa, and wanted to wait until Africa and other countries, in other regions, low-income countries, start vaccination. So I was protesting, in other words, because we’re failing.” But the documentary never claimed Ghebreyesus was not vaccinated, nor did Ghebreyesus’ response indicate as much. In the full June 12, 2021, interview — which was edited for the documentary — Ghebreyesus in fact did reply that he was vaccinated on May 12, according to the Science article by Cohen that followed. Ghebreyesus also publicly posted a photo on Twitter showing him receiving his vaccine that day, which he followed with a post about vaccine equity. The date was not included in the portion of the response shown in the documentary, Cohen confirmed to the AP. Cohen responded to the erroneous claim about Ghebreyesus’ vaccination status on Twitter, calling it a “lie,” and pointing to his written interview. The filmmaker, David France, said in an interview with the AP that the important part of Ghebreyesus’ answer was his explanation that he had waited for better vaccine equity before getting his own shot. But, he said, Ghebreyesus’ explanation that he had waited was clearly in the past tense. “In the context of the film, it was the wait — and the reason for the wait — that was the core part of his answer, and that’s what we included,” France said.
— Angelo Fichera
Earth spinning faster is no cause for concern, scientists say
CLAIM: The Earth is spinning faster and days are getting shorter, a change that is noticeable and cause for immediate concern.
THE FACTS: While the Earth on June 29 did indeed record its shortest-ever day since the adoption of the atomic clock standard in 1970 — at 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours — scientists say this is a normal fluctuation. Still, news of the faster rotation led to misleading posts on social media about the significance of the measurement, leading some to express concern about its implications. “They broke news of earth spinning faster which seems like it should be bigger news,” claimed one tweet that was shared nearly 35,000 times. “We so desensitized to catastrophe at this point it’s like well what’s next.” Some Twitter users responded to these tweets with jokes, as well as skepticism about the magnitude of the measurement. Others, however, voiced worries about how it would affect them. But scientists told the AP that the Earth’s rotational speed fluctuates constantly and that the record-setting measurement is nothing to panic over. “It’s a completely normal thing,” said Stephen Merkowitz, a scientist and project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There’s nothing magical or special about this. It’s not such an extreme data point that all the scientists are going to wake up and go, what’s going on?” Andrew Ingersoll, an emeritus professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, agreed with this assessment. “The Earth’s rotation varies by milliseconds for many reasons,” he wrote in an email to the AP. “None of them are cause for concern.” The slight increase in rotational speed also does not mean that days are going by noticeably faster. Merkowitz explained that standardized time was once determined by how long it takes the Earth to rotate once on its axis — widely understood to be 24 hours. But because that speed fluctuates slightly, that number can vary by milliseconds. Scientists in the 1960s began working with atomic clocks to measure time more accurately. The official length of a day, scientifically speaking, now compares the speed of one full rotation of the Earth to time taken by atomic clocks, Merkowitz said. If those measurements get too out of sync, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, an organization that maintains global time, may fix the discrepancy by adding a leap second. And despite recent decreases in the length of a day over the last few years, days have actually been getting longer over the course of several centuries, according to Judah Levine, a physicist in the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He added that the current trend was not predicted, but agreed it’s nothing to worry about. Many variables impact the Earth’s rotation, such as influences from other planets or the moon, as well as how Earth’s mass redistributes itself. For example, ice sheets melting or weather events that create a denser atmosphere, according to Merkowitz. But the kind of event that would move enough mass to affect the Earth’s rotation in a way that is perceptible to humans would be something dire like the planet being hit by a giant meteor, Merkowitz said.
— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.
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