Fake News of the week

FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 file photo, President-elect Barack Obama is welcomed by President George W. Bush for a meeting at the White House in Washington, with former presidents, from left, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. On Friday, May 15, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Obama is the first president to speak out against his successor. Several former presidents have made comments criticizing the policies of their successors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter _ even Theodore Roosevelt. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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: Nancy Pelosi is trying to pass a law called HR6666 which would allow people to come into your home and take your family members for quarantine.

THE FACTS: House bill 6666, the COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act, clearly states that individuals who test positive during testing for COVID-19 would quarantine at their residences. Following the introduction of the bill May 1, social media users began misrepresenting components of the bill online. The text posts shared thousands of times across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter said that the bill would remove family members from households and force them to quarantine. “Nancy Pelosi is trying to pass a law called HR6666. If this passes, strangers can come into your house and take (by force if needed) your family members including your children to a quarantined area,” states one widely shared post on Facebook. In reality, the House bill would give $100 billion to local organizations, such as community health centers or nonprofits, to help with testing and contact tracing by funding door-to-door outreach, the purchase of testing supplies and the hiring and training of people to run mobile testing sites. Preference would be given to hot spots and medically underserved communities. The bill states that grants will be awarded for “diagnostic testing for COVID-19, to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals and to support the quarantine of such contacts, through mobile health units and as necessary, testing individuals and providing individuals with services related to testing and quarantine at their residences.” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois who introduced the bill, said on his website that the bill would not require that anyone be tested for the coronavirus and would not force anyone to quarantine. “I’ve seen these alarming posts as well, but I can assure you that they are completely false,” he says on his website. “This bill does not authorize anyone to enter your home, for whatever reason, without your permission, nor does it allow the government to remove anyone from your home because of the coronavirus.” Posts online expressed outrage and suggested that the bill would allow the government to enter homes and do as they pleased. The post is part of a common misleading theme emerging on social media around government efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As of Friday, the bill was in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.


CLAIM: Former President Barack Obama is the first president to speak out against his successor.

THE FACTS: Several former presidents have made comments criticizing the policies of their successors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter — even Theodore Roosevelt. On Sunday, Trump retweeted a tweet that included the false claim: “Barack Hussain Obama is the first Ex-President to ever speak against his successor, which was long tradition of decorum and decency,” the tweet stated, misspelling Obama’s middle name, which is Hussein. In his retweet, Trump asserted that “he got caught.” During a private call last Friday with former members of his administration, Obama criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it an “absolute chaotic disaster.” A recording of the call was obtained by Yahoo News. Obama also discussed the Justice Department dropping its criminal case against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he worried that the “basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.” Although there is a traditional reluctance among presidents to criticize a successor, Obama is not the first president to do so. “Historically, recent presidents do not attack sitting presidents that often and when they do, they are measured,” Peter Loge, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who focuses on political communication, agreed. “When presidents have criticized other presidents, they tend to do so while not naming them,” she said, noting that such criticism would generally be made in private. In April 2015, former President George W. Bush was seen as criticizing successor Obama during a closed-door Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s comments on Obama’s policies in the region: “Pulling out of Iraq was a strategic blunder.” Former President Clinton criticized the administration of his successor, George W. Bush, over its Iraq policy: “The point is, there is no military victory here,” he told Good Morning America in July 2007. Former President Jimmy Carter ripped successor Ronald Reagan for sending arms to Iran in hopes that Americans held captive in Lebanon would be released. Carter said Reagan mishandled the Iran-Contra affair and is ″making believe he’s telling the truth″ to the American people about it. President Theodore Roosevelt called successor William H. Taft a traitor of reform, and criticized him for not advancing his progressive policies. Experts noted that Trump’s rhetoric around former presidents has gone far beyond the norm, particularly his criticism of Obama on social media and at political rallies.


CLAIM: The California Department of Social Services sent a letter to participants in state assistance programs mandating testing for the coronavirus for all family members receiving benefits. Failure to be tested by June 1, 2020, will result in the temporary suspension of benefits and children may be removed from the household if someone tests positive.

THE FACT: The letter was fabricated and falsely attributed to the California Department of Social Services. Social media users shared the fabricated letter widely online, expressing outrage that benefits would be taken from those who were not tested for COVID-19. “This is scary beyond belief,” one post on Facebook said. “Refuse to test and they can take more than unemployment benefits. They can remove your children and place them in foster care!!” The letter said that participants “in state assistant benefits including cash aid, Cal Fresh or Medical, you are being informed that COVID-19 testing has been declared mandatory for all members of your household receiving assistance. Failure to obtain a test by June 1, 2020 will result in the temporary suspension of your benefits beginning July 1, 2020.” The California Department of Social Service letterhead was included on the document and it appeared to have been signed by Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services. Both were used without consent. “We have alerted the appropriate county authorities for investigation,” the California Department of Social Services said on its website. “If you receive this letter, please disregard it. State departments and county human services departments NEVER will ask about your health status in connection to an application for benefits.” The letter stated that Merced County in California would be offering the free tests at participating locations and included a website and phone number. Merced County debunked the fake letter in a post on Facebook, calling it counterfeit. “The letter also falsely claims that if someone tests positive for COVID-19, his/her children may be removed from the home and placed into foster care,” Merced County posted on Facebook on Monday. “Should you have any questions regarding social services or child welfare, please contact the Merced County Human Services Agency child welfare hotline at 209-385-3104.”


CLAIM: Individuals in Washington state who refuse to cooperate with contact tracers, or those who refuse testing, will not be allowed to leave their homes for necessities.

THE FACTS: Numerous posts circulated on Facebook falsely claiming that people who refuse to participate in contact tracing in Washington will “not be allowed to leave their homes to purchase basic necessities such as groceries and/or prescriptions.” Not so, said Amy Reynolds, communications director with the Washington State Department of Health, who said the posts “are not accurate summaries of contact tracing or enforcement.” Reynolds confirmed to The Associated Press in an email that contact tracing is voluntary. “Anyone can choose not to participate in an interview if they are contacted by public health professionals,” she said. “We hope to make it easy for people who test positive or who are identified as close contacts to voluntarily follow public health recommendations, which may include staying home for a period of time.” Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, announced the launch of a contact tracing plan this week to keep track of the spread of COVID-19. The state has 1,371 contact tracers ready to assist local health departments. According to AP reporting, Inslee said that the goal is to “box in” the virus by first having people who think they have symptoms quarantine themselves and seek testing. The goal is to contact those who test positive within 24 hours of testing and to contact those the people encountered within 48 hours. “At the sign of any symptoms, people should confine themselves at home. Voluntary confinement for both ill persons and the members of their households will be a major challenge, but it is one of the most critical portions of this entire endeavor,” Inslee said. Last week, Inslee announced that stay-home restrictions will be extended through at least May 31. “As the Governor mentioned, our experience with infectious disease shows that the vast majority of people voluntarily comply when asked to stay home,” Reynolds said. “We believe most people are eager to take steps to protect their own health and that of their loved ones and communities.” She added that local health officers have some authority related to individual enforcement but they rely on people voluntarily following public health recommendations. “The authority to enforce involuntary isolation or quarantine rests with local health officers,” she specified. “Each local health jurisdiction in Washington has existing plans and processes should involuntary isolation or quarantine be needed. They would need to speak to their authority in more detail.”


CLAIM: Dr. Fauci has sat on Microsoft’s board of directors with Bill Gates as his boss.

THE FACTS: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has never served on Microsoft’s board of directors. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become a target of misinformation as he oversees the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest posts are trying to link Fauci to Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, who has long been a target for his work around vaccines. “I bet you didn’t know Dr. Fauci sat on MicroSoft’s Board of Directors- and that Bill Gates – was his Boss…Now did, ya,” the text posts online say. Posts with the false claim circulated widely on social media, with posts on Facebook shared thousands of times. Microsoft confirmed to The Associated Press that Fauci has not served on Microsoft’s board. Fauci has, however, collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced in 2010 that Fauci would serve on the Leadership Council for the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration. The effort was part of the foundation’s Global Vaccine Action Plan, which the leadership council would oversee. On the Gates Foundation website, it shows that Fauci also participated on a board in 2003 with other medical officials and scientists to help the Gates Foundation with their work around AIDS, malaria and other diseases.


CLAIM: Video says that onions can cure bronchitis, fever and kill viruses in the air.

THE FACTS: While onions offer nutritional and health benefits, there is no evidence that they can cure bronchitis, fever or kill viruses in the air if placed around a room. Myths around using onions to cure various ailments have existed for years. As medical researchers around the world struggle to find a vaccine for coronavirus, social media users are searching online for ways to treat themselves at home. One video on Facebook with more than 50,000 views was shared with the comment, “onions better than any VACCINE.” “Do you know if you have fever or bronchitis, if you chop up onions and put it in like a cheese cloth or a thin cloth, put it on your chest, it gets rid of bronchitis?” says a woman featured in the video. “If you have a fever, cut a piece of the onion in slices, put it under your foot bottom and put on a sock. By morning your fever gone.” The woman also suggests cutting the tops off the onions and then putting them in every corner of a room. “It will pull out every virus, any bacteria out of the air,” she says. Myths about onions and viruses are totally undocumented by science, said Ruth S. MacDonald, who chairs the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. According to the National Onion Association, myths about onions date back to the 1500s when it was said that putting cut onions around a room would protect against the bubonic plague. Back then it was believed diseases were spread through “noxious air.” The myth continued to live on to the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. “In short, there is no scientific evidence that a cut raw onion absorbs germs or rids the air of toxins/poisons,” the association says on its website. Medical experts say it is important to consult a health care professional if you are showing signs of fever or bronchitis rather than relying solely on home remedies.


CLAIM: Video shows massive protests in Germany against “Deepstate,” Bill Gates and vaccines.

THE FACTS: The video shows a July 2017 protest in Warsaw, Poland, against plans that would put the judicial system under the control of the conservative ruling party. The aerial video, taken in the evening, shows thousands of people demonstrating near the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on July 23, 2017. It has been circulating on social media falsely captioned as showing protests in Germany. “#Breaking #BreakingNews #Germany ERUPTS in MASSIVE Protests against the #NWO Corrupt #Deepstate & the NAZI Eugenics World takeover by #BillGates #vaccine Sterilization & Depopulation Campaign as they know about it better than anyone with their history,” stated a May 11 Twitter post with the video. The tweet refers to anti-vaccine rhetoric and conspiracy theories that have circulated around the COVID-19 pandemic. Across Germany there have been multiple protests in recent weeks with demonstrators demanding an end to coronavirus lockdown restrictions there. Twitter users falsely suggested that the video was linked to those protests. But the falsely captioned video being shared with some social media posts was filmed on Krakowskie Przedmieście, an elegant promenade in Warsaw, on July 23, 2017. Anti-government protests erupted in Poland as the ruling party moved to take control of the courts. According to AP reporting, on July 16, 2017, thousands protested, outraged over legislation they said would violate judicial independence and the rule of law. The protests lasted for days.


CLAIM: Videos show proof that actor Tom Hanks and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot support the “New World Order,” a conspiracy theory built on the idea that the world’s most wealthy and powerful are plotting to overthrow democracy and install a single, global authoritarian government.

THE FACTS: The videos are being misrepresented. The YouTube clip featuring Hanks was taken from a five-minute video of him addressing the class of 2020 at Wright State University. Social media users claim Hanks — who called the graduates “chosen ones” — was congratulating members of the New World Order for a successful coup because of the pandemic. A review of the video shows Hanks simply told students they would enter a post-college world that will look very different after coronavirus has spread throughout the globe. “You chosen ones are going to form the new structures and to find the new realities and make the new world, the world after all that we have been through and after your time here in the final years, the final weeks at Wright State,” Hanks told the graduates. Hanks’ video message was played during a virtual ceremony on May 2 for graduates of the college’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures.

The video featuring Lightfoot was edited to take her words out of context. She was not planning a global coup, she was talking about ending a long-standing and unusual custom in Chicago called “aldermanic prerogative,” which gave aldermen absolute power on zoning and development decisions in their home wards. The video with Lightfoot’s comments was taken during an April 2019 interview with the Chicago Tribune, days after she won her mayoral bid with a historic campaign that vowed reforms that would root out corruption in the city. During the interview, Lightfoot said she would put a stop to aldermanic prerogative, practice some have criticized as unchecked power that was easy for aldermen to abuse. To help get rid of the practice, Lightfoot says she plans to sign an executive order that says the city will no longer honor the practice. She tells the Tribune that after that order is signed, she will then hire new officials across key departments in the city, like zoning and housing, who are on board with abolishing the custom. “You pick the people to run those agencies and the deputies that are pledging allegiance to the new world order and good governance,” Lightfoot said. Social media users are sharing an edited, one-minute video clip of that comment to suggest she is talking about trying to overthrow the government with a new world order. Other social media posts share a screenshot of her quote to make the misleading claim. In May 2019, after she was inaugurated, Lightfoot signed an executive order limiting aldermanic prerogative.