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NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

News

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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: Maps of recent wildfires in the Pacific Northwest show the fires stop abruptly at the Canadian border.

THE FACTS: Maps circulating on social media with this claim include only American data. Canada has its own fire mapping system, which shows there are fires burning in British Columbia, just north of the western U.S.

Social media posts this week noted what seemed like a curious phenomenon: Wildfire maps show the blazes stretch across much of the western United States, but end at the Canadian border. Facebook users joked that the fires must “lack Canadian passports” and called it a “geographical oddity.”

A Twitter user in Canada said he was “gratified to see” that climate change stops at the 49th parallel. “Must be that carbon tax,” he wrote. The maps were also shared by Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent for Newsmax. “If the fires in Oregon & Washington are ‘climate change’ then why do the fires stop at the Canadian border?” she wrote in a tweet shared nearly 4,000 times.

The answer is that these maps only show American data. One map shared in several social media posts, for example, is a “USA Wildfires” map from the geographic information system software supplier Esri. It shows more than 100 wildfires in the western United States but doesn’t display Canada’s fires. Canadians are seeing some fires, and have also endured unhealthy air quality levels as strong winds blow smoke and ash particles from U.S. fires to the north, the AP has reported.

But British Columbia’s wildfire season has been less severe than that of Washington, Oregon and California this year thanks to cooler and wetter conditions in that part of Canada this summer, according to Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia. Weather patterns originating in California that have exacerbated the fires along the West Coast of the U.S. became weaker as they traveled north to Canada, Daniels told the AP.

Scientists say climate change has contributed to more intense wildfires in both countries in recent years. “This is everywhere,” Daniels said. “We’re all experiencing extreme temperatures, extreme droughts, extreme fires driven by those droughts, and they are the hallmarks of climate change.”

CLAIM: Antifa is now carrying chainsaws, cutting down utility poles and starting more fires as wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that antifa activists have wielded chainsaws, cut down utility poles or started any of the fires currently spreading across Washington, Oregon and California. Public officials in the Pacific Northwest have been fighting misinformation along with deadly wildfires as a surge of false posts on social media blame the fires on antifa, short for anti-fascist, a range of far-left militant groups that oppose white supremacists.

“Oh boy!” read one false Facebook post on Sunday that was shared more than 3,300 times in 24 hours. “ANTIFA is now carrying chain saws, and cutting down utility poles, and starting more fires. Is there any doubt that we have a war on our hands now?”

Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox told The Associated Press on Monday he had not received any reports of antifa activists using chainsaws or cutting down utility poles. Also, the FBI on Friday issued a statement saying it had investigated several claims about extremist groups starting the fires in Oregon, and found them to be untrue.

The claim emerged in the days after a public Zoom meeting in Oregon’s Clackamas County on Sept. 10, when a captain from the sheriff’s office said he had received reports of “suspected antifa” agitators “armed with chainsaws” near Estacada, Oregon. “The goal was to fall telephone poles in hopes of starting further fires,” Capt. Jeff Smith said in the meeting. Smith also mentioned reports of people in extremist groups “staging gas cans for later destruction.” He said the claims came to the sheriff’s office from a “sergeant on the street.”

However, the sheriff confirmed in a Sept. 14 press conference that these reports were baseless. “I want to clarify for the record that one of our captains indicated a source stated that antifa was involved in possible criminal activity,” Sheriff Craig Roberts said in Monday’s press conference. “That source has since been determined to be false.” Roberts added that the sheriff’s office did not have any suspects “associated with any groups” in connection to the wildfires.

CLAIM: CDC warns that non-N95 masks will do nothing to protect you from wildfire smoke because “they do not catch small particles.” Smoke particles are larger than those of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, so masks do not work.

THE FACTS: Cloth and surgical masks are designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by catching respiratory droplets coming from the person wearing the mask. Respiratory droplets are larger than smoke particles.

Social media posts are misrepresenting information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding masks and wildfires to claim that masks do not work.

The CDC recently updated its guidance on wildfires to include information about the coronavirus. On the page titled “Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19,” the agency said that cloth masks would not protect anyone from wildfire smoke.

“Cloth masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health,” the agency said.

Online posts are using that information to say that if smoke particles are larger than those of the coronavirus, then how could masks be effective in stopping COVID-19. “Mask won’t prevent smoke inhalation. But keep thinking they are protecting you from a virus,” one post on Facebook said. The posts were shared across Facebook and Twitter with one post on Twitter receiving more than 8,000 likes.

Such posts miss the point of wearing cloth or surgical masks.

“If the wearer has a respiratory droplet that has a virus, facial coverings keep that droplet from going out into the area around them which is why facial coverings are recommended when people are not social distancing,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “It’s never been designed to protect the person wearing the mask.”

N95 masks are engineered to protect against inhaling very small particles about .3 microns in size and larger, making them effective against smoke and virus particles, said Dr. Jonathan Parsons, a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Wildfire particles are up to 2.5 microns. A coronavirus particle is about .125 microns in size. “Cloth masks and surgical masks are not designed to protect you against particles that small so the smoke goes through,” Parsons said. “Respiratory droplets are much larger than the harmful materials in the wildfire smoke.”

Parsons recommends wearing cloth and surgical masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 in wildfire areas even if they do not protect against smoke particles.

CLAIM: Video of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden deplaning at a Tampa, Florida, campaign stop shows him waving to an empty field.

THE FACTS: An Associated Press reporter traveling with Biden on Tuesday confirmed he was waving to firefighters and other ground personnel outside the frame of the video.

In the video, taken from a Fox News report, Biden points to his right and waves as he steps from the plane in Tampa, but only an empty field can be seen in the distance. A woman in the background of the video laughs and makes fun of Biden, yelling, “Who’s he waving to? There’s nobody there. He thinks he’s Trump.” One version of the video was retweeted more than 17,000 times.

Versions of the same video also appeared on YouTube and various conservative blogs, and were viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.

In reality, Biden was waving to people outside the frame of the video. Beyond the AP’s account, a Bloomberg News reporter posted video of the scene from a different angle, capturing four people standing near a fire truck and other personnel on the runway.

CLAIM: A Sept. 9 photo of three Democrats — presidential candidate Joe Biden, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — without masks at the Detroit Athletic Club in Michigan shows they are flouting mask guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE FACTS: The photo was not taken Sept. 9. It was taken in early March, before Michigan had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus, the Detroit Athletic Club confirmed in a statement.

In the days since Biden’s campaign visit to suburban Detroit last week, social media users have been widely circulating photos of Biden shaking hands with former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer Jr., with Whitmer and Duggan in the background. None of the politicians is wearing a mask. Facebook and Instagram posts call Biden, Whitmer and Duggan hypocrites for encouraging Americans to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic while ignoring their own advice.

“While OUR children are being mandated to wear a mask while playing outdoor sports these hypocrites are at the Detroit Athletic Club yesterday maskless!” read a Thursday Facebook post with the photo. “When will the sheeple wake up! This is ALL about control and it has to STOP.” “Say it isn’t so,” read another Facebook post on Thursday. “Biden, Whitmer, Duggan and others at the Detroit Athletic Club last night. Masks? Distancing? Nope. Touching? Yep!”

The miscaptioned posts emerged after Archer posted the photo on his Instagram account on Sept. 9, with the caption, “It was good to catch up with dear friend @joebiden and @vdarcher earlier this year (pre Covid) #letsgo #2020.” The Detroit Athletic Club confirmed on its Facebook page that the photo was taken there in March.

In addition, the clothing worn by Biden and Whitmer in the photo matches Associated Press photos from a Detroit rally on March 9. Biden was at the club earlier that day, attending a fundraiser hosted by Michigan politicians, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan had not yet announced any confirmed COVID-19 cases. The state reported its first presumptive positive COVID-19 case a day later, on March 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not begin advising all Americans to wear cloth face coverings until early April, according to AP reporting.

CLAIM: COVID-19 is a man-made virus intentionally manufactured in a lab and released to the public.

THE FACTS: Scientists say the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 rules out the possibility that the virus was created in a lab. A draft study associated with a group founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is giving new life to false claims that the coronavirus was manufactured intentionally in a Chinese lab.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was released Monday by Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan and three colleagues. It claims to show evidence the virus did not originate in nature. The four authors list their affiliation as the Rule of Law Society, a group founded by Bannon that says its mission is “to expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.” It is not a scientific organization.

Twitter suspended Yan’s account on Monday and declined to comment on the reason for the suspension. The same evening, Yan appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, claiming the coronavirus is a Frankenstein-like virus manufactured and released intentionally by the Chinese government. The video of her Fox News appearance, shared widely on social media and retweeted by the president, sparked a swell of social media posts backing the theory.

Carlson has been speculating on the virus’s origins since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S.

Despite top medical officials and researchers debunking the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in a lab, it continues to thrive. Scientists have repeatedly said that the genetic sequence of the virus and its similarities to SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, prove that the virus was not made in a lab or engineered.

In a paper titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” published in Nature in March, scientists with Scripps Research who studied the genome sequence of the virus concluded that it originated through natural processes. By looking at the virus’s molecular structure, they were able to determine that the backbone of the virus differed from coronaviruses already known to scientists and rather it resembled viruses found in bats and pangolins. Scientists have said that if the virus was made in a lab then its structure would reveal that it would have been created from viruses that are already known and there would be signs of manipulation.

“These two features of the virus, the mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2,” Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and one of the authors of the paper, said in a news release in March.

CLAIM: McDonald’s removed its American flags nationwide in support of antifa and Black Lives Matter.

THE FACTS: A McDonald’s USA spokesperson confirmed this claim is not true and there is no coordinated effort to remove American flags from its restaurants.

Twitter and Facebook users this week spread a false rumor about America’s largest fast-food chain in posts collectively shared more than 10,000 times. “McDonald’s removes their American flags in support of Antifa & BLM nationwide,” the posts read. A Facebook post added the hashtag “#boycottMcDonalds.”

A McDonald’s spokesperson told The Associated Press there is no truth to this claim. In addition, there is no evidence in news reports or other publications that any such action is being taken. The company recently published a statement on its website saying that Black lives matter and announcing donations to the National Urban League and the NAACP.

It also announced a new diversity and inclusion initiative on July 30. McDonald’s has not published any public statements about antifa, short for anti-fascist, an umbrella term for left-leaning militant groups that oppose white supremacists at protests.

“McDonald’s unequivocally stands behind the need for equality and social justice, and these rumors are not true,” the company told The Associated Press in a statement.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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