Not Real News: A look at what didn’t happen this week


President Trump takes a question from a member of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before boarding Marine One. On Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, The Associated Press reported on a video circulating online incorrectly depicting Trump lost and meandering around the White House lawn. The original Aug. 7, 2019 video clip, available on C-SPAN, was edited to make it appear the president is experiencing dementia symptoms ahead of the election. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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: A total of 19,888 fake driver’s licenses that were made in China and seized at the O’Hare International Airport were all registered to vote as Democrats.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting a law enforcement report about fake IDs as an example of illegal voter registration. There is no evidence to support that conclusion. “Feds Seize 19,888 Fake State Driver Licenses (Made in China) in Chicago O’Hare Airport – ALL Registered to Vote — ALL Democrat!” read several Facebook posts circulating this week, collectively amassing more than 3 million views.

The claim follows a July announcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials detailing the seizure of 19,888 fraudulent driver’s licenses at the O’Hare International Airport from the start of the year to June 30. “

The driver’s licenses were for various people in different states with a vast majority destined for neighboring states,” and most were for college-age individuals, the press release said.

The cards came in 1,513 shipments, largely from China and Hong Kong, but also from Great Britain and South Korea. However, the claim that the seized licenses were “all registered to vote” — let alone registered with a particular political party — is unsubstantiated and extremely unlikely, according to election security experts. In every state except North Dakota, which requires voters to show an ID at the polls, citizens must register before they can vote and generally must show both proof of identity and proof of residence, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

When someone registers to vote for the first time, election officials compare the number from that person’s driver’s license or other state-issued ID — or the last four digits of their Social Security number — to state motor vehicle agency records or Social Security Administration records. “When the information does not match, the application is sent to officials for further review or action,” NCSL’s website says. Because of that system, it would be “very hard” to create a voter registration with fake IDs like the ones seized at Chicago’s airport, said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“These are pieces of plastic,” Becker said. “That’s all they are. They do not have matching records in any official database. It’s unfathomable to me that this would even be considered remotely plausible.”

On top of that, voter registration fraud is extremely rare, according to John Lindback, a national elections expert with the Center for Secure and Modern Elections.

“When it has come up it’s usually very small in number and isolated,” he said. Lindback added, “in order to register that number of people on a fraudulent basis, you’d have to come up with 19,000 verifiable social security numbers and driver’s license numbers” — which he explained would be a near-impossible feat. In its release, CBP did not include anything to suggest the seized driver’s licenses had any connections to voter fraud.

CLAIM: Video shows President Donald Trump lost and meandering around the White House lawn.

THE FACTS: A video clip from 2019 was altered to make it appear the president is experiencing dementia symptoms ahead of the election, and gained more than 5 million views on social media. In the edited 12-second clip, Trump finishes answering reporters’ questions on the South Lawn of the White House and then walks an indirect path, stopping near a puddle.

The clip was edited to remove a portion of the video that shows the first lady Melania Trump approaching him and the president pointing to the puddle to warn her. They then walk toward the Marine One helicopter.

Social media users shared the video with the text saying: “Trump is lost & disoriented here. His mind goes blank and he doesn’t remember what he’s supposed to do next. He’s deep into his degenerative neurological disease- Frontotemporal dementia – mindlessly lumbering and zigzagging in the grass towards a puddle.”

The original clip, available on C-SPAN, was taken on August 7, 2019. The C-SPAN caption says the video shows Trump speaking to reporters as he leaves the White House for Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, following mass shootings in both cities. “He gave an update on meetings with lawmakers regarding legislative action to address mass shootings and gun violence,” the caption reads.

CLAIM: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to introduce a 3% annual federal tax on your home.

THE FACTS: A post circulating widely on Facebook this week falsely claims homeowners can expect higher taxes on their property if Biden is elected. “Biden wants to put a 3% annual federal tax on your home,” the post reads. “Do you want him for POTUS?”

But nothing in Biden’s tax plan indicates homeowners would be subject to an additional 3% federal property tax. Experts who have analyzed the plan confirmed to AP there was no evidence to support the claim.

Gordon Mermin, a senior research associate for the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told the AP in an email he was “not aware of any proposed federal taxes on homes nor is there anything in the plan that might be construed as such.” He added: “Looks like nonsense.”

Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst for the Tax Foundation, also told the AP he had not seen anything related to a 3% federal tax on homes in any of Biden’s tax proposals. During the Democratic primaries, some candidates discussed an annual wealth tax, which could also be levied on homes owned by wealthy individuals.

“But Biden has not included a wealth proposal in his tax plan,” Watson said. Biden has campaigned on economic proposals that he claims will benefit American workers and ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes.

Independent analyses of Biden’s tax plan from the two above nonpartisan groups, as well as others, say it would increase the corporate tax rate to 28%, add a 12.4% Social Security tax for earners above $400,000 and roll back tax cuts that President Donald Trump introduced for those making $400,000 or more, among other changes. Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

CLAIM: Photo shows a white boat that sank to the bottom of Lake Travis in Texas during a boat parade for the president.

THE FACTS: Social media users are passing around a photo of a boat at the bottom of a lake, falsely claiming it shows one of the boats that recently sank during a parade in Texas to support President Donald Trump. Several boats sank during the Sept. 5 boat parade on Lake Travis, northwest of Austin. But the photo social media users are sharing was taken in June after a motorboat sank in northern Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.

The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and rescue boat, saving 10 people who were on the boat as it began sinking into chilly waters. There’s no evidence that the boat’s submersion was part of any political rally or event, Nick Assendelft, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, told AP. In July, state officials said the 33-foot-long vessel needed to be removed from the bottom of the bay but the boat remained underwater in Lake Michigan as of Tuesday, Assendelft confirmed.

CLAIM: The sports apparel company Nike was quoted saying it could “afford to let go of all ‘Make America Great Again’ customers.”

THE FACTS: A recent Facebook post claimed Nike turned a cold shoulder to Trump-supporting customers in a statement — but the quote wasn’t real and appeared to have originated from a bogus, two-year-old rumor.

“NIKE has stated, ‘We’re a $76 Billion dollar company that can afford to let go of all “Make America Great Again” customers.’ #bye,” read the post, which was viewed more than 45,000 times. The same claim was shared by other social media users, including in a public Facebook group linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The quote is fake, according to company spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John, who confirmed to the AP that the quote “definitely did not come from anyone at Nike.”

The false rumor has circulated online since at least 2018. While Nike has voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement, made financial pledges to end systemic racism and partnered with the nonpartisan corporate voting initiative “Time to Vote,” it does not appear to have endorsed any candidate for president.

Public statements published on the company’s website over the past year have not included any mention of President Donald Trump or the phrase “Make America Great Again.” An internet search for the false quote reveals it first emerged in September 2018, when the company announced it would feature the activist and free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign.

Trump said Nike was sending a “terrible message” by making the athlete who knelt during the national anthem the face of its new campaign, the AP reported at the time. On Sept. 4, 2018, the day of the announcement, a Twitter user falsely claimed a Nike spokesperson told NPR it could afford to lose “‘make america great again’ customers.”

CLAIM: Photo shows former President Barack Obama with Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is holding up the dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a photo showing a young Barack Obama with his brother, Malik Obama, falsely claiming the former president is standing next to Judge Emmet Sullivan. The posts suggest that the former president has had a long-standing relationship with Sullivan, who is moving forward with a criminal case against Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump. Posts misrepresenting the photo were shared widely across Twitter and Facebook.

The New York Post featured the photo in a story about Malik Obama and his book, “The Big Bad Brother from Kenya,” in August. The caption on the photo reads, “Barack and Malik in Boston in 1990.”

Malik Obama is Barack Obama’s half-brother on his father’s side from Kenya. Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii with his American mother. During the 2016 presidential election, Malik Obama said he supported Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton, his brother’s secretary of state.

Posts online suggested that when Barack Obama was president, he appointed Sullivan as judge. That is not the case.

Three other U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton— appointed Sullivan to judicial positions. He was nominated by Clinton to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1994.

Sullivan has refused to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn. Earlier this month, he scheduled a hearing and appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position to dismiss. The AP reported in 2017 that Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making “false fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI over conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

CLAIM: World Bank website shows COVID-19 test kits purchased by countries in 2017 and in 2018.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing data from the World Integrated Trade Solution website to falsely claim that testing kits for COVID-19 were purchased by countries in 2017 and 2018. The erroneous posts are using the data to suggest that the coronavirus is a hoax spread by global leaders.

In fact, the data compiled by the website shows previously existing devices that are now being used to fight the coronavirus. The World Bank along with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and several global trade organizations developed World Integrated Trade Solution — WITS — software to track information on trade and tariffs.

The posts began circulating late last week using screenshots from a page on the WITS website that shows test kit exports by country. At the time the posts were first shared, the website said “COVID-19 Test kits (382200) exports by country” in 2017. The website has since clarified the information on the page to say that “data here track previously existing medical devices that are now classified by the World Customs Organization as critical to tackling COVID-19.”

The World Bank confirmed to the AP that the products were available before COVID-19 for other uses, but have recently been designated to support COVID-19 efforts. In April, the World Customs Organization and the World Health Organization collaborated to create a list of codes to help speed up the movement of medical supplies that could be used to diagnose and treat COVID-19 across borders. Ventilators, which existed long before the coronavirus, were on a June version of that list, according to The World Bank.

“It serves as the basis for identifying the cross-border movement of the products needed during the pandemic, applying contingent tariff and non-tariff relief policies, monitoring and combating falsified supplies, and even for taking responsive actions to address shortages,” the World Customs Organization said in a statement in April.

Some posts linked to a chart showing countries’ exports for test kits that rely on polymerase chain reaction testing, PCR. The test kits determine the genetic material of the virus. The tests have been around for more than 30 years.

“This has been planned for DECADES!,” one Facebook post said, sharing a screenshot of the data. The false posts online were shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter. Some posts even suggest that the World Bank updating the page was a sign that there was a cover up.

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