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

Apr 8, 2022, 7:39 AM | Updated: 9:10 am

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:


Video does not show staged bodies in Bucha

CLAIM: A video filmed from a moving car in the Ukrainian city of Bucha shows dead bodies moving in the street, including one body “waving” its hand and another rolling over.

THE FACTS: Following Russian troops’ withdrawal from the city, social media users are sharing a low-quality, edited clip that’s being used as propaganda. The original video shows the bodies were not moving, according to a review by The Associated Press and an analysis by an independent expert. Russian troops withdrew from towns around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv last week after Moscow said it was focusing its offensive on the country’s east. Ukrainian officials said after the departure the bodies of 410 civilians were discovered, some with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture. Russian government-linked accounts on social media employed a familiar strategy of denial, suggesting the scenes from Yablonska Street in Bucha, a city northwest of the capital, were staged and calling reports of such atrocities a “hoax.” Other social media users and at least one Russian government official seized on a specific video that had been circulating on Telegram and Twitter, falsely claiming it showed one dead body “suddenly” waving its hand and another body seeming to “rise” from its position on the street. But an analysis of a clearer version shows the bodies were not moving. The first body said to be moving is seen to the right side of the vehicle, as the camera is recording through the windshield, which is spotted with dirt, water droplets and other markings. As the car approaches, a white mark appears to move across the body’s torso, which social media users claimed showed its hand waving. In the poor quality version of the video, the clip slows down, zooms in and then plays forwards and in reverse several times to emphasize the speck’s movement over the torso. But the original video shows the white spot is on the windshield and happens to briefly align with the body. In the second part of the clip, the cameraperson films the street from the reflection in the right-hand side-view mirror, showing a body in the street. Social media users falsely claimed the body could be seen standing up. The video is replayed forward and backward in slow motion to emphasize the warped reflection from the side-view mirror and to give a sense of movement. Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on digital forensics and misinformation, reviewed the video and confirmed that there is no indication either body moved. “What we are seeing is rain on the windshield that just happens to align with the body in the road,” Farid wrote in an email to the AP. “As for the portion from the side-view mirror, the video is so badly distorted due to the car motion, rain, and video compression, that it is impossible to even plausibly claim the body is moving.” Further, satellite imagery provided to the AP by Maxar Technologies from March 19 shows multiple dark objects, comparable in size and shape to human bodies, on Yablonska Street in the same positions, well before the video was posted and Russia says its troops left town on March 30.

— Associated Press writers Arijeta Lajka in New York and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.


Wisconsin school district does not have ‘furry protocol’

CLAIM: The Waunakee Community School District in a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, has a “furry protocol” that allows students who identify as “furries” to opt out of speaking in class, sit and lick their paws during gym class and bark and growl in hallways.

THE FACTS: The district does not have a protocol for students who identify as animals, and it does not allow disruptions at school, according to Superintendent Randy Guttenberg. The baseless rumor that students who dress up as animals are getting special treatment in a Wisconsin school district began circulating widely after a conservative radio host said she’d received an email about the issue last month. Vicki McKenna, who hosts a show on a Madison AM radio station, said on a March 17 podcast that she received an email from a grandparent of students in the Waunakee Community School District saying the students were being told to “normalize” the behavior of classmates who preferred to dress and act like animals. “The Furries can choose whether they want to speak in class or not,” read part of the purported email, shared onscreen in a video version of the podcast hosted by a University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, professor. The email went on to make several other unsubstantiated claims. But the assertions are completely false, according to Guttenberg, who clarified in an email to the AP that “the Waunakee Community School District does not have protocols for Furries, nor do we allow disruptions in our school and classrooms.” McKenna did not respond to an emailed request for comment. The bogus claim comes as lawmakers and political candidates have shared similar misinformation about student “furries” in Michigan, Nebraska and other Wisconsin school districts amid the culture wars and legislative action involving gender identification in schools. Social media comments claiming students who identify as animals are being allowed to use the restrooms incorrectly in Wisconsin’s Denmark School District, Green Bay Area Public School District and Pulaski School District are unfounded, administrators in those districts told the AP. Craig Janssen, a school board candidate in Denmark School District southeast of Green Bay, advanced the false narrative with a statement on his campaign website ahead of elections Tuesday about “bodily excretion nonsense that would cause your jaw to drop” happening in local schools. Janssen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. District Administrator Luke Goral said his staff investigated a rumor that a student urinated on the floor of a school restroom and found no evidence to support it. He said none of the staff in the district have reported students causing a disruption by behaving like animals on campus. A separate false claim that a western New York school put a litter box in a restroom for students who identify as animals also spread online this week.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.


Headline misrepresents a California reproductive health bill

CLAIM: A California bill would allow mothers to kill their babies up to seven days after birth.

THE FACTS: The bill in the California legislature, AB 2223, is being falsely represented. It does not legalize the killing of infants. Social media users made the false claim while sharing a headline that incorrectly suggested the proposed bill would legalize “infanticide.” “California introduces new bill that would allow mothers to kill their babies up to 7 days after birth,” reads the erroneous headline of a story published by the Miami Standard, a conservative website. But that’s not what the legislation would do. The bill eliminates a requirement that a coroner must investigate deaths related to suspected self-induced or criminal abortion. Coroner statements on certificates for a fetal death could not be used to pursue a criminal case against the mother. The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat representing the East Bay. Its aim is to protect women who end a pregnancy or have a miscarriage from being investigated, persecuted or incarcerated, according to Erin Ivie, a spokesperson for Wicks told The Associated Press. “The bill is specific to pregnancy and pregnancy-related outcomes, and does not decriminalize the ‘murder of babies’ in the weeks after birth,” Ivie said. Social media users making the false claim cite a line in the bill stating that a person would not have criminal liability in the event of “perinatal death,” a period of time following a birth. The bill does not establish a time frame around “perinatal.” The Miami Standard article defines the period as “up to seven days or more.” The outlet wrote in a response to the AP that, “Perinatal is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as at or around the time of birth. This could extend up to 28 days after the infant has been born.” The outlet included statements by several attorneys from pro-life organizations arguing the wording could decriminalize killing infants. But the term “perinatal death” in the bill is intended to mean the death of an infant caused by complications in pregnancy, according to Ivie. To clarify the term, Wicks added a new amendment to the bill on Monday, changing the wording to, “perinatal death due to a pregnancy-related cause.” Even without the new amendment, the bill wouldn’t have allowed for “infanticide” or murder of an infant days after it’s born, since homicide is illegal, according to Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director at If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. A case where the bill might apply would be if a pregnant woman who exhibited signs of preterm labor could not afford to be on bed rest, Ivie said. While there could be a chance that the delivery results in a stillborn, the bill would ensure the woman couldn’t be prosecuted if that did occur, Ivie explained. “Anti-abortion activists are peddling an absurd and disingenuous argument that this bill is about killing newborns when ironically, the part of the bill they’re pointing to is about protecting and supporting parents experiencing the grief of pregnancy loss,” Wicks added. On Tuesday, the amended bill passed through the Assembly Judiciary committee and moved to the health committee hearings.

— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in New York contributed this report.


No relationship between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS

CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines are causing a form of AIDS that is not related to HIV, long established as the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause any kind of immune deficiency condition, let alone AIDS, nor is there evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines damage the immune system, experts say. In a video circulating widely on social media, Dr. Robert Malone, a frequent critic of COVID-19 vaccines who once researched mRNA vaccine technology, made the claim that the vaccines are “damaging T cell responses” and “causing a form of AIDS.” “People think, when they hear AIDS, they hear HIV. No, the vaccines aren’t causing you to be infected with the HIV virus,” said Malone, during a taped interview with a website that focuses on COVID-19. “They are causing a form of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, that’s what AIDS stands for.” In the interview, published April 1, Malone claimed that “lots of scientific data” support his claim, but cited no evidence. The claims are unfounded. As The Associated Press previously reported, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines damage the immune system or cause AIDS, and there is also no evidence that the vaccines are causing a form of AIDS that doesn’t stem from HIV, experts tell the AP. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley, said he knows of “no data” showing that mRNA vaccines cause immunodeficiency of any kind, including AIDS. “What is widely accepted is that vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause short-term immune activation, not deficiency,” Richard E. Chaisson, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research, wrote in an email. “Dr. Malone is distorting and misrepresenting data.” The AP has previously reported on false claims that COVID-19 vaccines damage T cells. Research shows the vaccines boost the immune response. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is often spread through sexual contact, shared or contaminated needles and infected blood. If untreated, it can lead to AIDS. Both Chaisson and Swartzberg wrote that the term “AIDS” is strictly used to describe the condition caused by HIV. Chaisson described Malone’s use of the term as “deliberately provocative and irresponsible.” There are forms of inherited immunodeficiency, such as severe combined immunodeficiency, that result in life-threatening infections, Chaisson noted. But, he said, there is no evidence that these conditions are caused by COVID-19 vaccines. Malone did not respond to a request for comment.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.


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