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:
CLAIM: Wearing face masks can cause fungal and bacterial pneumonia.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence that normal use of face masks can cause fungal or bacterial infections. On June 19, a Florida congressional candidate posted a tweet claiming that wearing face masks could lead to pneumonia. “Excessive use of face masks causes fungal and bacterial pneumonia,” wrote Jessi Melton, a conservative business owner who is running to represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. The false post had over 16,000 retweets as of Wednesday. Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University, said he was unaware of any harm that comes from wearing masks besides discomfort. “There’s no evidence of masks leading to fungal or bacterial infections of the upper airway or the lower airway as in pneumonia,” said Hamer, who is also a professor of global health and medicine at the university. Hamer noted that bacterial growth could occur, in theory, if someone wore a mask that was already contaminated with moisture and became moldy. “Theoretically, it could happen, but it’s highly unlikely with just typical mask use,” he said in a phone call with the AP. However, he added, paper masks that become visibly wet should be discarded. Anne Monroe, an internal medicine physician and epidemiologist at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, agreed: “There’s no evidence to back up this claim. Digging into it a little bit more, in terms of mask use, it is important to follow general sanitation guidelines.” She said it’s important that disposable masks be discarded and cloth masks be washed. “The idea that contamination could cause fungal pneumonia is not a valid conclusion,” she said. Monroe agreed with Hamer that it’s “potentially theoretical,” but that it has not been documented. The real danger, Hamer said, is “spreading incorrect information like this, especially at a time when we really need to be encouraging more people to wear masks.” The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 Friday — eclipsing the mark set during one of the deadliest stretches in late April.
CLAIM: A May 20 tweet sent and later deleted by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat representing New York, argues that governors should keep businesses closed until after the presidential election because economic recovery will help get President Donald Trump reelected.
THE FACTS: The tweet was fabricated. It does not appear in archived versions of Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter feed or in databases that track deleted tweets by politicians. The congresswoman also knocked down the tweet on her Twitter feed: “I usually don’t tweet to correct fake posts about me bc the right circulates so many, but needless to say the alleged ‘deleted’ reopening tweet people are saying I wrote is a photoshopped fake being circulated by Republicans.” On Tuesday, June 23 — the same day as New York state’s primary election — an image of the tweet supposedly posted by Ocasio-Cortez circulated rapidly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “It’s vital that Governors maintain restrictions on businesses until after the November Elections because economic recovery will help Trump be re-elected,” the fabricated tweet read. “A few business closures or job losses is a small price to pay to be free from his presidency. #KeepUsClosed.” Social media users sharing the image in Facebook groups and other social media forums claimed the congresswoman deleted the tweet after it had already amassed more than 20,000 retweets. They used the image to criticize the congresswoman and her intentions on the same day she was defending her seat in a Democratic primary election. “Lil’ miss enemy of the people strikes again,” one Instagram user said. But an investigation into the supposed tweet reveals there is no evidence that it ever appeared on Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter timeline. Archived versions of her account from the day it was allegedly posted don’t show the tweet. Neither do databases that track deleted tweets by politicians. There’s also no indication that the tweet was re-shared by anyone between May 20, the date on the supposed tweet, and June 23. A tool that tracks the first Twitter user to post certain words and phrases showed that the message didn’t appear on the site until June 23.
CLAIM: In North Carolina, you can be charged with a class H felony if you have a concealed carry permit and carry while wearing a mask, according to state statute 14-12.
THE FACTS: North Carolina state statutes do not prohibit people with permits to carry concealed guns from doing so while wearing a mask. As counties in North Carolina began requiring masks to prevent spread of the coronavirus, posts online have circulated suggesting that gun owners permitted to carry a concealed gun would face a felony charge if they carry while wearing a mask. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that face coverings would be required while out in public saying that “people must wear face coverings when in public places, indoors or outdoors.” Posts circulating on social media warn that those who decide to concealed carry and wear a mask can be charged with a felony. “Once you have a felony you can no longer carry,” stated one post with more than 5,000 shares on Facebook. The posts online referenced “NC Gen. Statute 14-12” as the reason state residents with “concealed carry” permits could not carry their gun and wear a mask at the same time. But in May, as part of its Covid-19 Recovery Act, the North Carolina state legislature made a temporary exception to the state’s mask law due to public health concerns. The bill also stipulates that a person wearing a mask shall remove the mask upon request of a law enforcement officer. The law dates to the 1950s, when masks were banned in public. Several states passed such laws at the time in response to the Ku Klux Klan. “We are not aware of any statutes that would prohibit people from continuing to concealed carry, which is their legal right in North Carolina, and also wear a mask to protect themselves,” Patrick Ryan, spokesman for North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, said.
CLAIM: NASCAR allows a Black Lives Matter-themed car, but won’t allow its audience to wear MAGA hats or other Trump clothing.
THE FACTS: The auto racing association has not banned Trump-themed clothing, according to NASCAR spokesman Mike Forde. This claim emerged as a piece of satire on June 13, days after NASCAR announced it would ban the Confederate flag from its events and properties. Daily World Update, a self-described satire website, published a piece that said NASCAR would no longer allow “Make America Great Again” hats or other political clothing “in order to stem any conflicts resulting from disagreements among ‘politically charged’ attendees.” The trouble came when Facebook users began spreading the claim as real. Over the last several days, posts claiming NASCAR has instituted a MAGA hat and Trump clothing ban have eclipsed 6 million views and been shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook. “WOW HOW TO DIG YOUR OWN GRAVE AND JUMP IN : NASCAR HAS NOW BANNED ALL MAGA HATS AND TRUMP CLOTHING !!! JUST WOW,” one post read. Many other posts claimed NASCAR was hypocritical for allowing its athlete Bubba Wallace to drive a Black Lives Matter-themed car while banning Trump gear. Forde confirmed that beyond the Confederate flag ban, people at NASCAR events are free to wear political clothing as they please. “There is no ban on maga hats or Trump clothing,” he said in an email.
CLAIM: In a Facebook post, tennis star Serena Williams said she was sick of COVID-19, “black vs. white,” “gay vs. straight” and “Democrats vs. Republicans,” and that people should “stop thrusting your beliefs on others.”
THE FACTS: This is a case of mistaken identity. Another Facebook user named Serena Williams shared the comments. Screenshots of her post are being shared on social media, mistaking her for the tennis athlete. In late June, Facebook and Twitter users began sharing a screenshot of the Facebook post, which showed the name Serena Williams next to a message about COVID-19 and political tension. “I’m sick of COVID-19. I’m sick of black vs. white. I’m sick of Democrats vs. Republicans. I’m sick of gay vs. straight. I’m sick of Christians vs atheists. I’m REALLY sick of the media. I’m sick of no one being allowed to think what they want & feel what they do without offending someone,” said the message, which went on for three more paragraphs, encouraging people to be tolerant of others’ opinions. ”If you can’t handle the fact that you may have a friend that has opposing views as you then you are not any better than the bigots and the racists. I don’t have to agree with everything you believe to be a decent human being & your friend,” it concluded, with a heart emoji at the end. But the actual Facebook user who posted the opinions on Sunday, June 14, is not the athlete Serena Williams — they just happen to share the same name. “Nope, not THAT Serena Williams,” the user’s Facebook bio reads. The message in the post appears to have originated with a different Facebook user who shared the same words on Facebook on June 2. The tennis star Serena Williams has been outspoken on social media about racial injustice, denouncing racism on Twitter and hosting discussions on the topic on her Instagram page. Williams’ publicist confirmed the tennis star didn’t make the post.
CLAIM: Photo shows a massive crowd in a parking lot at President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
THE FACTS: The photo shows an event in Arlington, Virginia, not Trump’s rally in Tulsa. On Saturday, June 21, as Trump prepared for a rally in Tulsa, posts began circulating online sharing a photo of a red car passing a parking lot crowded with people. “Look at Tulsa now!!!!” stated one Facebook post with more than 3,000 shares. In reality, the photo shows the North Pentagon parking lot in Arlington, Virginia, a location that has been used by the Rolling Thunder, a group that honors prisoners of war and service members killed in action, for their annual motorcycle demonstration. Similar photos on the Rolling Thunder Washington, DC Inc., Facebook page match the parking lot, surrounding greenery and a building in the background of the one being misrepresented online. Rolling Thunder Washington, DC confirmed to The Associated Press that the photo appeared to show a Rolling Thunder event in a Pentagon parking lot. Photos of the event online also show the Washington Monument in the background. “First Amendment Demonstration Run – Bikes leave the North Pentagon parking lot to begin their run through the Mall area,” Rolling Thunder organizers wrote on their website, showing a map of the area. The photo was widely misrepresented on social media, including by Donald Trump Jr., who posted it to Facebook the day of his father’s rally. “The Silent Majority is about to GET LOUD,” he wrote. The misrepresented Arlington photo was labeled: “Line for today’s Trump rally.” One Instagram post sharing the misrepresented photos received about 30,000 likes. Posts falsely identifying the photo also circulated widely following reports that turnout at Trump’s Tulsa rally on Saturday was far lower than anticipated. According to estimates by the city’s fire marshal’s office, about 6,200 people gathered in the BOK center for the rally. The center will hold about 19,000 people. Other posts shared the photo in a side-by-side comparison with a photo that appeared to show poor turnout at a June 17 campaign event for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Darby, Pennsylvania. “A Joe Biden ‘rally’ this week,” said the caption with the photo taken at the Biden event, which was closed to the public and allowed only journalists and nine official attendees.
CLAIM: Photo depicts Japanese police spraying looters and rioters with blue dye so they could be identified and arrested later.
THE FACTS: The photo is miscaptioned and being shared out of context. A reverse-image search reveals it actually shows Hong Kong police spraying pro-democracy protesters in 2019 with water containing blue dye. The photo of people on a street being drenched with blue-tinted water circulated widely on Facebook with a false caption this week, reaching more than 6 million people. “Japan sprays looters and rioters with indelible blue dye so they can be identified and arrested later,” a caption with the photo read. “How about it America?” The misrepresented photo was being shared in the wake of nationwide protests in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, who is Black, died May 25 after a white officer used his knee to pin him down by the neck. Peaceful protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have erupted in Japan in the past month — but this image doesn’t show one of them. Instead, an internet search for the photo reveals it was taken in Hong Kong in 2019, amid protests sparked by a proposed law that would allow suspects there to be extradited to mainland China to stand trial. During the protests in 2019, Hong Kong police used water cannons with blue dye in them, The Associated Press reported at the time.
CLAIM: “Congratulations, Dr. Michelle Obama! Since her husband left the White House, and her children are out of the house, Mrs. Obama decided to complete her ‘PHD in law.’”
THE FACTS: Social media users are posting Facebook photos of Michelle Obama and falsely congratulating her for supposedly completing a new law degree after leaving the White House in 2016. The posts, many of which were made in May or June, have received thousands of shares on Facebook. Obama was already accomplished on this front, having earned a juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1988, decades before her husband assumed the presidency in 2008. She earned that degree three years after finishing her bachelor’s degree at Princeton University. A spokeswoman for Obama confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that she has not earned any new degrees since leaving the White House in 2016. Obama has received several honorary degrees from universities after giving commencement speeches, including honorary doctorate degrees from Oregon State University in 2012, Bowie State University in 2013 and Jackson State University in 2016. Since the end of her time as first lady, Obama released a memoir, “Becoming,” in 2018 that was followed by a 34-city book tour that concluded last year, and a Netflix documentary was unveiled this year.
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.