NOT REAL NEWS: A look at fake news that was shared on social media this week

Weird News

Claims that there is no coin shortage and the government is trying to usher in a cashless society are fake. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)

(AP/NEXSTAR) — 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: There is no coin shortage. Coins get recirculated, they don’t just disappear. The government is trying to usher in a cashless society.

THE FACTS: Not so, says The Federal Reserve, which manages the country’s coin inventory. Coins aren’t being circulated because businesses are closed and sales are down during the pandemic. And the government isn’t pushing the U.S. into a cashless society, either. The U.S. Mint is actively producing more coins to alleviate the short supply.

Despite that, posts circulating widely on Facebook are suggesting that the shortage of coins in the U.S. is a hoax because it doesn’t make sense for the currency to have “disappeared.” The posts suggest a larger conspiracy is at play to usher us all into a “cashless” era.

The Federal Reserve has explained that the supply chain is severely disrupted by the pandemic. “With establishments like retail shops, bank branches, transit authorities and laundromats closed, the typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin,” the Federal Reserve said in a June statement. The Federal Reserve has asked banks to only order the coins they need and to make depositing coins easy for customers. It also put together a task force of retail, bank and armored cash carrier leaders to brainstorm ways to normalize coin circulation again.

The U.S. Mint, meanwhile, is moving at full speed to mint more coins, while minimizing its employees’ risk to COVID-19 exposure, the agency’s spokesman Michael White told The Associated Press in an email. The Mint produced nearly 1.6 billion coins last month, White said, and is on track to average about 1.65 billion per month for the rest of the year. That’s up from an average of 1 billion coins per month last year, he added.

CLAIM: Former President Barack Obama signed the law authorizing federal agents to “snatch” protesters off the streets in Portland, Oregon.

THE FACTS: The White House says 40 U.S Code 1315, under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, gives the Trump administration the authority to send armed federal agents to confront protesters in Portland. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush, not Obama.

A false claim circulating on social media says people criticizing President Donald Trump for sending federal agents into Portland to clear protesters are ignoring the fact that Obama signed the law that allows for that to happen. “When everyone just blames Trump but forgets who actually signed the law authorizing federal agents to snatch protestors off the streets in Portland,” says an erroneous Facebook post shared more than 1,300 times with a photo of Obama smiling.

In early July, Trump sent federal agents to Portland to halt protests, arguing that it was necessary to protect federal buildings from protesters. State and local authorities oppose federal intervention and a lawsuit has been filed to stop the action. Trump is relying on the Department of Homeland Security in unprecedented ways as he tries to bolster his law and order credentials by making a heavy-handed show of force in cities around the nation in the lead-up to the November elections, the AP has reported.

According to Stephen Vladeck, professor at the University of Texas School of Law, social media posts are falsely referencing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 signed by Obama, saying that law authorizes the Trump Administration to deploy federal agents.

“It’s simply preposterous,” Vladeck said. “That statute includes a controversial set of provisions concerning military detention, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening in Portland.”

The law, often referred to as NDAA, included detention provisions that could be interpreted to authorize indefinite military detention without charge or trial. When questioned about the legality of sending agents with tactical gear to confront protesters against the will of local officials in those cities, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited Section 1315 during Tuesday’s press briefing. McEnany claimed that Section 1315 “gives DHS the ability to deputize officers in any department or agency, like ICE, Customs and Border Patrol, and Secret Service” to protect property owned by the federal government. “And when a federal courthouse is being lit on fire, commercial fireworks being shot at it, being shot at the officers, I think that that falls pretty well within the limits of 40 U.S. Code 1315,” she added.

CLAIM: A video from a 1985 hearing exposes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for using the N-word, stating: “We already have a n—– mayor, we don’t need any more n—– big shots!”

THE FACTS: Social media users are twisting Biden’s words from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 1985 for the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds as U.S. deputy attorney general. Biden was reading a racist statement made by a state legislator during a redistricting process in Louisiana that was overseen by the nominee, who was being questioned under oath.

Biden was using those comments to build a case against Reynolds’ nomination, pointing out that as the assistant attorney general for civil rights he ignored racist comments by lawmakers and signed off on a plan that gerrymandered Louisiana’s congressional districts to deprive Black residents of representation. Biden specifically questioned Reynolds about a Louisiana congressional map redistricting proposal called the Nunez plan. C-Span video footage of Reynolds’ 1985 nomination hearing shows that Biden repeatedly asked Reynolds if he heard or saw any evidence that Louisiana’s politicians intentionally drew the map in a way that discriminated against Black residents in New Orleans.

Reynolds said he did not find any evidence that this was the case. Biden pointed out that Reynolds did, however, receive a memo from his staff that highlighted racist comments made by legislators who opposed the majority Black district. Using the N-word in the quote, Biden said: “They brought to your attention the allegation that important legislators in defeating the Nunez plan, in the basement, said, ‘We already have a n—– mayor, we don’t need any more n—– big shots.’”

Biden argued that those comments, as well as other problems with the Louisiana governor’s plan, should have been a red flag for Reynolds, who should have never signed off on the plan. The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately rejected Reynolds’ nomination in a 10-8 vote.

CLAIM: Black tour buses wrapped with “Black Lives Matter” were seen in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, bringing in Black Lives Matter and antifa rioters for protests.

THE FACTS: The photos being shared online show tour buses that were wrapped with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan for the Toronto Raptors basketball team.

Social media users are misrepresenting photos online to say they show that Black Lives Matter protesters and activists associated with antifa — an umbrella term for anti-fascists — are being bused into cities for protests. “At a truck stop in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. Notice the number and immense cost of the custom buses bringing in Black Lives Matter and Antifa Rioters. This is huge money and organization. @realDonaldTrump. This should be attacked by going after those with the deep pockets,” one post on Twitter with more than 7,000 retweets said. The photo shows a bus yard where tour buses wrapped with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan are parked.

The buses were part of a Toronto Raptors effort to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The team used the buses for only a day and they were moved to a Fort Lauderdale bus yard on July 10. They have not moved since.

A spokesperson for the Toronto Raptors confirmed to The Associated Press that the buses were wrapped for the team and were provided by a bus company that transported the team in Florida from their training camp in Naples to Orlando, where the NBA constructed a social “bubble” to resume the NBA season and protect 22 teams from COVID-19.

The Toronto Raptors posted photos of the buses with the “Black Lives Matter” wrapper to Twitter on July 9, tweeting, “Silence is not an option.” The team also included the buses in an Instagram video where team members boarded them in T-shirts that also said “Black Lives Matter.”

The bus company that transported the team confirmed to the AP that the buses have been out of service since they were used by the basketball team. The posts misrepresenting the photos online coincided with Monday’s “Strike for Black Lives,” where essential workers picketed during their lunch breaks and held moments of silence in support of Black Lives Matter.

CLAIM: In a July 17 tweet, President Donald Trump says he is “SO MAD” the Pentagon abolished the Confederate flag and calls the flag a symbol of love.

THE FACTS: This tweet was fabricated. It does not appear on either archived versions of Trump’s Twitter feed or databases that track deleted tweets by politicians.

On July 17, the same day the Pentagon announced a policy banning displays of the Confederate flag on military installations, an image of a tweet allegedly sent by Trump’s account began circulating on Facebook and Instagram. “SO MAD!!!” the fake tweet read. “Pentagon abolished Confederate flag today. The flag is TREMENDOUS part of our history. It’s a symbol of LOVE!! Plantations kept black people employed and gave them free food and housing!!! Black unemployment was VERY low back then like now with ME as your President!!”

Several social media users sharing the image posted it alongside criticism of Trump. “Remember Trump’s Tweets when it’s time to vote!” wrote one Facebook user in a post viewed more than 22,000 times in two days. Another Facebook post with the image, shared without context or a caption, racked up more than 158,000 views.

But there is no evidence Trump ever tweeted this. The alleged tweet does not appear on his Twitter timeline, nor does it show up in a search of archived versions of his profile. In ProPublica’s Politwoops, a tool that tracks deleted tweets by politicians, a search for Trump’s account does not turn up any deleted tweets with this message, nor any deleted tweets from July 17.

In previous interviews, Trump has defended people’s rights to display the Confederate flag, referring to it as a First Amendment issue. “Like it, don’t like it, it’s freedom of speech,” he told CBS in a July 14 interview.

CLAIM: NASA has officially announced a 13th zodiac sign, Ophiuchus, after discovering a new constellation, meaning your zodiac star has changed.

THE FACTS: NASA is the federal agency dedicated to studying and exploring astronomy, not astrology, and has not made any such announcement.

Social media users are passing around an old hoax once again, claiming that NASA has officially established a 13th zodiac sign. The claim, which also contends that the entire zodiac system has now been realigned, is circulating in popular Facebook posts.

NASA debunked the social media posts on its website and Twitter account. “We see your comments about a zodiac story that re-emerges every few years,” NASA said in a July 16 tweet, sharing a link to a 2016 blog post that explains the zodiac’s history. “No, we did not change the zodiac.”

In an online statement, NASA said the Babylonians created the zodiac 3,000 years ago, centering it around 12 constellations to pair with each month of their 12-month calendar. That statement did note that the Babylonians’ ancient stories identified 13 constellations and they left off one — Ophiuchus — to match the calendar.

Though that’s been known for centuries — it isn’t a new discovery by NASA or anyone else. “So, we didn’t change any zodiac signs … we just did the math,” NASA said in the online post.

CLAIM: In an April 9 interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he expects 700,000 people to develop negative side effects from a coronavirus vaccine.

THE FACTS: Gates used the number in a hypothetical example, but social media users are misconstruing his words to claim he expects 700,000 vaccine injuries.

Ever since Gates’ interview about the coronavirus aired in April, posts and false news articles have claimed he had grim projections for the vaccine. “He’s expecting 700,000 people to have negative side effects,” wrote one Facebook user, in a post viewed by more than 40,000 people in two days.

But these posts don’t accurately represent Gates’ words. Asked about the timeline for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, Gates said creating effective vaccines for older populations is always a challenge.

He then referred to the number 700,000 in a hypothetical example to illustrate the importance of creating a vaccine that is effective without side effects. “Here, we clearly need a vaccine that works in the upper age range because they’re most at risk of that,” Gates said. “And doing that so that you amp it up so it works in older people and yet you don’t have side effects … you know, if we have 1 in 10,000 side effects, that’s way more, 700,000 people who will suffer from that. So, really understanding the safety at gigantic scale across all age ranges — you know, pregnant, male, female, undernourished, existing comorbidities — it’s very, very hard. And that actual decision of, OK, let’s go and give this vaccine to the entire world — governments will have to be involved because there will be some risk and indemnification needed before that can be decided on.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation confirmed in a statement that the reference was hypothetical. “Strong scientific evidence shows that vaccines are safe and they have a proven track record of preventing diseases,” the statement said. “Experts believe that a vaccine against COVID-19 will be critical to ending this pandemic ​once clinical trials show that they are safe and effective in a broad group of people.”

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