NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
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:
Ad misleads on treaty regulating global arms trade
CLAIM: President Joe Biden just announced that he is adding the U.S. as a signatory to the United Nations “Small Arms Treaty,” which would “establish an international gun control registry” in which other countries can “track the ‘end user’ of every rifle, shotgun, and handgun sold in the world.”
THE FACTS: There is no “U.N. Small Arms Treaty.” A separate U.N. agreement, the Arms Trade Treaty, regulates the international trade of a range of weapons, but does not track domestic gun sales. The false claim about an “international gun control registry” was shared in a Facebook advertisement by a gun rights group stoking fears about threats to the Second Amendment. The group, the “American Firearms Association,” claims in its Facebook ad that Biden “has just announced that he is adding America as a signatory to the U.N. Small Arms Treaty, setting the stage for a full ratification vote in the U.S. Senate.” “The U.N. Small Arms Treaty would establish an international gun control registry, allowing Communist China, European socialists, and 3rd World dictators to track the ‘end user’ of every rifle, shotgun, and handgun sold in the world,” continues the post, which links to a petition asking for users’ contact information. The post calls on supporters of the Second Amendment to oppose the treaty. But there is no treaty called the “U.N. Small Arms Treaty,” and the treaty that is being referenced does not record private gun sales in any country, experts say. The actual treaty, the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, deals not only with small arms such as rifles and pistols, but battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and more, the AP has reported. The U.N. in 2013 adopted the treaty to keep weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and human rights violators. The treaty prohibits countries that ratify it from exporting conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes, or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It does encourage its parties to maintain national records regarding exports of conventional arms and says such records should include the “end user.” But that’s a recommendation about recording exports that a country makes to another country, not gun sales to individuals within a country, said Jennifer Erickson, an associate professor of political science and international studies at Boston College. Experts note that the treaty was written to explicitly make clear it has no bearing on domestic gun rights or sales. The treaty’s preamble, for example, states that the agreement is “Reaffirming the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.” The U.N. has “no gun control registry in terms of private ownership, whatsoever,” Erickson said. Erickson said the U.S. government already uses “end-use” monitoring by recording where it sends weapons. “There is only in the Arms Trade Treaty a focus on cross-border transfers, so not domestic sales or ownership,” said Rachel Stohl, vice president of research programs at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank focused on international security. “It’s really looking at sales between governments. And it applies to the entire range of conventional weapons, not just small arms and light weapons.” The U.S. signed the treaty in 2013, though the Senate never ratified it — which means the country is a signatory of the agreement, but not an official party and bound by it. In 2019, Trump announced that he was revoking the country’s status as a signatory, though that move was symbolic. The U.N. still lists the U.S. as a signatory to the treaty, though in a footnote online it acknowledges that, in a July 2019 communication, the U.S. said it did not intend to become a party to the treaty and that it has no legal obligations in relation to it. Contrary to the ad’s claim, Biden has not yet taken any action to reverse the U.S.’s public position on the treaty, Stohl said. An inquiry to one of the directors of the American Firearms Association was not immediately returned.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
Baseless claims about safety of mRNA vaccines circulate online
CLAIM: Humans and other mammals injected with an mRNA vaccine die within five years.
THE FACTS: There is no scientific evidence to suggest humans or other mammals given an mRNA vaccine die within five years, experts told the AP. Social media users are reviving concerns that mRNA-based vaccines, including those that are used to combat COVID-19, are extremely deadly. “No mammal injected with mRNA has ever survived longer than 5 years. The die-off has begun,” one user on Twitter wrote in a post that’s been liked or shared more than 17,000 times. But there’s no scientific proof that the mRNA vaccination shortens life expectancy or has led to mass die offs in humans or other mammals since research began on them decades ago, experts told the AP “Nothing of the scale suggested has happened,” Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the AP. “The vast majority of the millions who have been injected are doing just fine.” Vaccines utilizing messenger RNA, or mRNA, teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response that protects a person from becoming seriously ill from a disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The molecule was first discovered in the early 1960s and research into its uses in medical treatment progressed into the 1970s and 1980s, according to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health. A flu vaccine based on mRNA was tested on mice in the 1990s, but the first vaccines for rabies and influenza weren’t tested on humans until recently. Kuritzkes said no deaths from those vaccines were reported in those trials. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been inoculated against COVID-19 in the last couple of years and reports of death after vaccination remain rare. Healthcare providers are required to report any death after a COVID-19 shot to the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. More than 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S. from December 2020 through last week, according to the CDC. During that time, there have been more than 16,500 preliminary reports of death, or 0.0027% of those that have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, the CDC has identified just nine deaths causally associated with rare blood clots caused by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is not mRNA based like those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Kuritzkes also notes that mRNA only lasts in the body for a short period of time before rapidly degrading, making it unlikely that it would cause long term effects. “The fact that we’re just now getting to the five-year mark for some of the earliest studies is not evidence that people die from the vaccines,” he said. “Just evidence that five years have yet to elapse for many trials. Sort of like saying nobody who voted in the 2020 presidential election has lived more than five years.”
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.
Video of traffic at the Finnish-Russian border misrepresented
CLAIM: Video shows lines of cars waiting at the Russian-Finnish border after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists on Wednesday amid the war in Ukraine.
THE FACTS: The video was filmed at the Vaalimaa border crossing point between Russia and Finland on Aug. 29, weeks before Putin announced the partial mobilization of Russian reservists to Ukraine. Following Putin’s announcement, social media users misrepresented a video showing traffic at the border crossing point in Finland, about a three hour drive from St. Petersburg, Russia. The original video, which was posted to YouTube and TikTok on Sept. 19, shows a long line of cars at the border crossing point. Social media users then took the clip out of context, falsely claiming that it captured Russians fleeing to Finland. “#Breaking: just in – The traffic jam at the border with#Russia/#Finland has pilled up to 35KM and is rising by the hour, it is the only border who is still open for Russian civilians with shengen visas, after#Putin announced he will send 300.000 new troops to#Ukraine,” a tweet with more than 2.7 million views falsely claimed. Igor Parri, the TikTok user who posted the original video confirmed to The Associated Press in an email that he filmed it on Aug. 29. He sent the AP the original video to verify that he filmed it and noted that the video “was just depicting the quite typical line” at the border. The Finish border authority on Wednesday publicly responded to the claims circulating widely on social media, noting that traffic conditions at the border remained normal. “Situation at Finnish Russian border is normal, both at green border and in border traffic,” Matti Pitkäniitty, a senior official with the Finnish border authority wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “Just talked to our officers in charge. There is normal queuing in border traffic…” Pitkäniitty then tweeted on Thursday that traffic from Russia was at a “higher level than usual,” but was comparable to weekend traffic. In a statement to reporters on Thursday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that the country was considering ways to reduce Russian transit to Finland, after Putin’s announcement. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday sparked anti-war demonstrations across the country that resulted in almost 1,200 arrests, the AP reported. Some Russians rushed to buy plane tickets to flee the country.
Florida ranks 48th in teacher pay, not 9th
CLAIM: When the Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took office, Florida ranked 26th in the nation for teacher pay. Today the state ranks 9th in teacher pay.
THE FACTS: Florida most recently ranked 48th in the nation in average public school teacher pay and was ranked 47th when DeSantis took office, according to the National Education Association, which compiles the data annually. The Florida Republican Party misled social media users this month when it posted on its verified Twitter and Facebook accounts that the state was among the best in the nation for teacher pay. “When Governor DeSantis took office Florida ranked 26th in the nation for teacher pay, today we are 9th,” the party wrote. “Every year he fights to ensure Florida teachers get the support and funding they need.” However, national salary data contradicts those numbers. The National Center for Education Statistics and several other online sources for such data get their salary information from the NEA, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, which compiles most of its data from state education departments. NEA data shows that in the 2018-2019 school year, when DeSantis entered office, Florida ranked 47th in the nation for average public school teacher pay, giving teachers an average annual salary of $48,314. It ranked 48th in the 2020-2021 school year, giving teachers an average of $51,009. The state is estimated to continue to rank 48th for the 2021-2022 school year, according to Staci Maiers, an NEA spokesperson. The governor’s press office in a news release in March touted the 9th-in-the-nation ranking, but referred to starting salary, rather than average teacher salary. “In 2020, the average starting salary for a teacher in Florida was $40,000 (26th in the nation), and with today’s funding, it will now be at least $47,000 (9th in the nation),” the release said. Those numbers also aren’t an exact match for the NEA’s data, which show that in the 2019-2020 school year, Florida ranked 29th in the nation for average public school teacher starting salary, according to Maiers. Estimates for the 2020-2021 school year show Florida ranking 16th in the nation on this benchmark. And based on the data from that school year, which is the most recent data available, a $47,000 starting salary would place Florida at 11th in the nation, not 9th. Cassandra Palelis, press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, explained that the press release from March featured previous data from the NEA, which was later updated. She said Florida’s estimated starting salary for the 2022-2023 school year is more than $48,000 per year, which would rank 9th in the nation according to NEA data. The Florida Republican Party didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
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