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

Oct 7, 2022, 10:03 AM | Updated: 12:25 pm
FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the annual Freedman's Bank Forum at the Department of...

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the annual Freedman's Bank Forum at the Department of the Treasury in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. On Friday, Oct. 7, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming Harris said that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

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:


Harris comments on addressing climate inequity misrepresented

CLAIM: Vice President Kamala Harris said that Hurricane Ian relief will be distributed based on race, with communities of color receiving aid first.

THE FACTS: Speaking at the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington last week, Harris discussed distributing resources equitably to help vulnerable groups, such as communities of color, recover from disasters related to climate change. She did not describe the structure that would be used to allocate aid to victims of the recent hurricane. Widespread social media posts mischaracterized Harris’ comments during her conversation with actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas to claim she said communities of color would be prioritized in the distribution of relief for this storm. A Facebook video with a clip of Harris at the event on Sept. 29 alleged: “Kamala Harris tells hurricane victims in Florida they may not get aid because of their skin color?!” The video was viewed more than 211,000 times. The post refers to Harris’ response to a multipart question from Chopra Jonas in which she asked first about Hurricane Ian aid, and then, separately, about long-term efforts related to climate change. “Can you talk a little bit about the relief efforts, obviously, of Hurricane Ian and what the administration has been doing to address the climate crisis in the states?” Chopra Jonas asked, according to a full recording of the event. Chopra Jonas continued: “But — and just a little follow up, because this is important to me: We consider the global implications of emissions, right? The poorest countries are affected the most. They contributed the least and are affected the most. So how should voters in the U.S. feel about the administration’s long-term goals when it comes to being an international influencer on this topic?” Harris mentioned Hurricane Ian in passing, but did not talk about specific relief efforts the federal government would undertake. She instead referenced money allocated to address climate change in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and spoke about what she believes needs to be done to address the effects of climate change broadly, including the equitable distribution of resources. Pivoting to address the second part of Chopra Jonas’ question related to addressing disparities, Harris continued: “But also what we need to do to help restore communities and build communities back up in a way that they can be resilient — not to mention, adapt — to these extreme conditions, which are part of the future.” Harris then elaborated: “In particular on the disparities, as you have described rightly, which is that it is our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making,” she said, adding: “We have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity; understanding that not everyone starts out at the same place. And if we want people to be in an equal place, sometimes we have to take into account those disparities and do that work.” Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates told the AP that claims Harris announced in this response that Ian aid would be race-based are “inaccurate.” He said Harris was discussing long-term goals for addressing climate change, having “explicitly moved on to answering the second question.” FEMA Director of Public Affairs Jaclyn Rothenberg also told the AP that claims the process will be race-based are false, and that Hurricane Ian aid will be given to all those affected by the storm. “The Vice President was talking about a different issue at that time and her comments were focused on long term climate investments,” she wrote in an email.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.


World Cup ‘rules’ graphic created by citizens group, not Qatari officials

CLAIM: Qatar’s government created an infographic with instructions on how to behave during the 2022 World Cup, including rules that ban alcohol, homosexuality and dating.

THE FACTS: The infographic being shared online ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which opens in Qatar next month, was not created or released by the government there, according to the state agency in charge of organizing the event. It was created by a Qatari citizens group and published on social media as part of a campaign called “Reflect Your Respect.” The graphic, shared on social media with claims that it listed official rules on how to behave in the Muslim-majority country during the event, states: “Qatar welcomes you! Reflect your respect to the religion and culture of Qatari people by avoiding these behaviors.” The poster cites eight specific examples, including “drinking alcohol, homosexuality, immodesty, profanity,” and not respecting places of worship. Playing loud music, dating and taking people’s pictures without permission are also noted. Images representing each of those areas are featured on the infographic and are covered by a circle with a slash through it. “Qatar’s rules for people who will attend the World Cup 2022 in the country,” a tweet with the infographic claimed. But the infographic does not reflect official policies from Qatar related to conduct during the World Cup, according to the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the state entity organizing the tournament. “The ‘Qatar Welcomes You’ graphic circulating on social media is not from an official source and contains factually incorrect information,” a committee spokesperson wrote in a statement to the AP. “We strongly urge fans and visitors to rely solely on official sources from tournament organisers for travel advice for this year’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.” Qatar is easing its stance on alcohol for the tournament. World Cup organizers have finalized a policy that would allow alcoholic beer to be served to fans inside stadiums and fan zones, the AP has reported. Qatari law calls for a prison sentence of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex. Despite same-sex relationships being criminalized, the AP reported that Qatari officials insist that LGBTQ couples would be welcomed and accepted in Qatar for the World Cup, complying with FIFA rules promoting tolerance and inclusion. Still a senior leader overseeing security for the tournament told the AP earlier this year that rainbow flags may be taken away from fans to protect them from being attacked for promoting gay rights. Planners involved with Reflect Your Respect did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


No, COVID shots don’t change human DNA to a ‘triple helix’

CLAIM: COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter recipients’ DNA by changing its shape to a “triple helix.”

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are editing humans’ DNA, experts have told the AP. The false claim, which has been shared repeatedly on social media, has surfaced again, this time in posts that allege the mRNA shots change DNA to a “triple helix.” DNA is made of two linked strands that appear like a twisted ladder, referred to as a double helix. RNA is closely related to DNA, and one type, called messenger RNA or mRNA, sends instructions to the cell for different purposes. The mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccines helps train the body to recognize a protein from the coronavirus to trigger an immune response. In one TikTok video that also appeared on Instagram, a woman claims: “The magic potion, if you actually read the patents, it is adding a triple helix.” Another Instagram video claims that “this new technology they came out with introduces a third strand, through mRNA messaging technology it actually breaks a strand and puts in a third strand, which creates a triple helix.” But the videos distort the science, experts said. The video attempts to back up its assertion by showing language from a Moderna patent application published in 2014 that at one point states: “According to the present invention, the nucleic acids, modified RNA or primary construct may be administered with, or further encode one or more of RNAi agents, siRNAs, shRNAs, miRNAs, miRNA binding sites, antisense RNAs, ribozymes, catalytic DNA, tRNA, RNAs that induce triple helix formation, aptamers or vectors, and the like.” But Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the AP the patent document was discussing RNA presenting as a triple helix, not changing humans’ DNA to a triple helix. “If you actually read the patent, it has nothing to do with forming a triple helix of the RNA therapeutic with the host DNA,” Kuritzkes said. It’s that the RNA molecule could theoretically form a triple helix, he said. For certain therapeutic applications, a triple helical RNA could be useful, he said. The patent was broad and not specific to Moderna’s eventual COVID-19 vaccine. “The messenger RNA from the vaccine does not form a triple helix, and it certainly doesn’t intercalate with the DNA to form a triple helix in any way,” Kuritzkes said. Experts emphasized that the mRNA in COVID-19 vaccines is not transforming humans’ DNA. “There is no mechanism for them to alter anyone’s DNA,” said Emily Bruce, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont. “It’s something that’s temporarily translated into protein and then the body gets rid of it.”

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.


Inflation is worse than it was a year ago, despite online claims

CLAIM: New data shows that inflation has dropped to half of what it was a year ago, marking a win for President Joe Biden.

THE FACTS: While inflation has slowed in recent months, the latest government estimates show that prices are still higher in August 2022 than they were in August 2021. As steep consumer price hikes continue to strain Americans’ budgets, a tweet downplaying the severity of recent inflation spread online. “BREAKING: New data has dropped that inflation has dropped to half of what it was a year ago,” read the tweet, which amassed more than 28,000 likes. “That’s a Biden Win!” The tweet’s claim isn’t supported by data, economists told the AP. While the Consumer Price Index, a measure of change in consumer prices and a common metric of inflation published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, was up just 0.1% in August from July, the index is still up 8.3% since August 2021. “There is no hard evidence of either inflation falling sharply on a monthly basis, on a quarterly basis, on a semi-annual basis, on a yearly basis, or announcement of any substantial revision of official statistics,” said Alessandro Rebucci, an associate professor of economics at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The Bureau of Labor Statistics did report that consumer prices increased 0.3% in August 2021 from July 2021, which is a higher monthly rate of change compared to the 0.1% monthly increase reported in August 2022. While the monthly change in consumer prices was lower in August 2022 than it was in August 2021, comparing those rates alone doesn’t accurately reflect how prices have changed during that 12-month timeframe, experts say. Lower gas prices slowed U.S. inflation for the second straight month in August, but most other prices kept rising, the AP reported. This jump in “core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, outpaced expectations and continues to pose a significant burden for U.S. households. “There’s still a fair amount of inflation embedded in the economy,” said Stephan Weiler, a professor of economics at Colorado State University, adding that Americans’ overall purchasing power has been reduced by 8.3%. The August CPI “basically means that things are getting more expensive,” said Yun Pei, an assistant professor of economics at the University at Buffalo. He characterized the idea that inflation has been halved over the last year as “clearly not true.”

— 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