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:


Players not forced to drop out of Australian Open due to chest pains

CLAIM: Three tennis players — Nikoloz Basilashvili, Nick Kyrgios and Dalila Jakupovic — were forced to drop out of this year’s Australian Open after they experienced chest-related health issues.

THE FACTS: Neither Basilashvili nor Kyrgios has dropped out, and Jakupovic was not scheduled to participate in this year’s Australian Open. The false rumor appeared in a widely shared article that also mentioned Australia’s decision to cancel the visa of top tennis player Novak Djokovic because he didn’t have a COVID-19 vaccine. The Jan. 10 article, published on a fringe website that has spread falsehoods about COVID-19, was titled, “Three players drop out of Australian Open with chest issues while Djokovic awaits his fate.” The story incorrectly claimed Basilashvili dropped out after he was seen “clutching his chest with respiratory difficulties” in a separate match during the ATP Cup. Videos do show Basilashvili seeking medical attention and retiring from an ATP Cup match in Sydney on Jan. 5, but the Georgian athlete did not drop out of the Australian Open, which started 12 days later, on Monday. In fact, he appeared in the tournament, losing on Tuesday to British player Andy Murray. The article also claimed that Kyrgios, from Australia, was forced to drop out of the tournament after suffering breathing difficulties. Kyrgios did pull out of a tuneup tournament in Sydney on Jan. 10 after testing positive for COVID-19, but he has since recovered and played multiple matches in the Australian Open. The article’s claim that Jakupovic, a Slovenian player, was forced to retire from an Australian Open match after dropping to the ground is also unsupported. Jakupovic dropped to her knees while coughing heavily from wildfire smoke during a match in the Australian Open in January 2020, before COVID-19 had spread widely across the globe. She is not scheduled to participate in this year’s tournament, according to its official roster. Thousands of social media users shared videos of Jakupovic collapsing in 2020 to falsely claim that the COVID-19 vaccine inhibited her breathing. There are no credible reports that any vaccine side effects have affected the Melbourne-based tennis tournament. Medical experts say there’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines have caused any wave of deaths or illnesses among athletes, either. Tennis Australia, which organizes the Australian Open, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report with additional reporting from Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia.


NHS didn’t create poster claiming COVID-19 causes Bell’s palsy

CLAIM: A photo shows a poster distributed by the National Health Service in England warning that COVID-19 vaccines cause Bell’s palsy.

THE FACTS: Any such poster was not issued by the NHS, the public health service confirmed to The Associated Press. Social media users shared a photo of what they claim is an official poster warning that COVID-19 vaccines cause Bell’s palsy. The poster includes the NHS logo and a photo of a girl, who appears to have facial paralysis. It reads, “Public Health Warning” at the top, and says below that the COVID-19 vaccine causes Bell’s palsy, a condition where there is a weakness or paralysis to one side of the face. Photos of the unauthorized poster were displayed near London’s Heathrow Airport, according to the posts online. The NHS said Tuesday that it was not responsible for the poster. The Department of Health and Social Care in England, which funds and oversees health agencies, also confirmed to the AP that the poster did not come from the NHS. Scientists studying COVID-19 vaccines have not found any links between the inoculation and Bell’s palsy. During the trial phase of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the company reported four cases of Bell’s palsy. But experts say the number of cases in the trial were consistent with the levels reported in the general population. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that “available data were insufficient for FDA to conclude that these cases were causally related to vaccination.” The photo of the girl used in the posters can be found on several stock image websites with the caption “Bell’s palsy.” The BBC featured the photo in 2013 in a first-hand account about a BBC reporter’s recovery process from the condition.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.


Video shows river in Indonesia, not tsunami in Tonga

CLAIM: A video shows people being hit by an unexpected wave amid a tsunami in Tonga on Saturday.

THE FACTS: The video was taken in Indonesia, not Tonga, and has been online since December 2021. It shows people being hit by a wave on the Kampar River in Sumatra. But after the undersea Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted near Tonga on Saturday, social media users misrepresented the video, falsely suggesting it showed people being hit by tsunami waves in the small Pacific nation. The clip begins with a person punching a tree on a riverbank. Several other people then come running up, followed by a strong wave that crashes into all of them, sweeping some of the people off their feet. “Unexpected #Tsunami #HungaTongaHungaHaapai #Tsunami #Tonga #Earthquake,” read one widely-shared Twitter post of the clip, which has been viewed more than 1.4 million times on the platform. The clip, which features people speaking the Bahasa Indonesia language, was uploaded to YouTube on Dec. 6, 2021. The caption is tagged with Sungai Kampar, a river on the island of Sumatra. One of the people featured in the footage, who uses the name Rina Rina bono on social media, confirmed the location of the footage in a WhatsApp message to The Associated Press. The Kampar River is known for its tidal bores — large waves that flow upstream in rivers. Indonesia is about 5,000 miles away from Tonga. Other videos posted to social media on Saturday did show large waves washing ashore in coastal areas in Tonga, swirling around homes, a church and other buildings. Three of Tonga’s smaller islands were hit with waves of up to 49 feet, the AP reported.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report, with additional reporting from Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Posts recirculate old, altered photo of fake CNN banner

CLAIM: A CNN broadcast displayed a banner stating that a shooter was “factually Arabic, but morally white.”

THE FACTS: The image has been manipulated to feature fake text. A CNN representative previously confirmed to The Associated Press that the network didn’t broadcast the banner. The manipulated image was widely shared in recent days by social media users who interpreted it as a real still from a CNN broadcast about the gunman who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue on Jan. 15. But the altered image originated as satire in 2021 following a shooting in Colorado and is now being recirculated on social media with incorrect claims about coverage of the Texas hostage situation. In the doctored image, CNN host Brooke Baldwin and correspondent Lucy Kafanov are depicted in a split-screen display. A fabricated chyron below the journalists states, “DEVELOPING STORY INVESTIGATION: SHOOTER WAS FACTUALLY ARABIC, BUT MORALLY WHITE.” But the banner is fake and the image has been manipulated. The AP previously reported that the fabricated image emerged in March 2021 on The Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical website. The original image came from a broadcast that month about the shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket in which 10 people were killed. The actual CNN banner stated: “COLORADO SHOOTING SUSPECT BOOKED INTO JAIL TODAY,” according to a TV news archive. At the time, a spokesperson for CNN confirmed in an email to the AP that the chyron on The Babylon Bee site was fabricated and didn’t match the network’s font. In some of the newer versions of the falsified photo, the CNN dateline listing “Boulder, Colorado,” was cropped out of view. The gunman who took four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at the synagogue in a suburb of Dallas, which ended in his death, was identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen who arrived in the U.S. roughly two weeks ago on a tourist visa, officials said.


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