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:


Vice president doesn’t have power to ‘change the outcome’ of elections

CLAIM: Vice President Mike Pence “did have the right to change the outcome” of the 2020 election but chose not to use it.

THE FACTS: The vice president has no power to unilaterally “change” or overturn the presidential election results of a state under the Constitution or any law, experts say. While former President Donald Trump is no longer directly posting on Twitter or Facebook, a statement he issued on Sunday soon swirled on social media — falsely claiming that his former vice president “did have the right to change the outcome” of the 2020 election and that he “could have overturned” it. Trump pointed to a current effort in Congress to amend the Electoral Count Act, a law enacted in 1887 and amended in 1948, as purported proof for his assertion. The role of the vice president in the counting of Electoral College votes is largely ceremonial, as The Associated Press has explained. The Constitution directs the president of the Senate to open the certificates of the election results from the states in the presence of the Senate and House and instructs that the votes “shall then be counted,” said Garrett Epps, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Oregon. He noted that the vice president is not explicitly referenced. However, the vice president serves as president of the Senate; if absent, the senior most senator from the majority party serves in that role. That language indicates Congress — not just the president of the Senate — is to count the votes, Epps said, and doesn’t afford the vice president any special power to overturn them. The Electoral Count Act does allow for an objection to a state’s vote in writing if it is signed by a member of the House and a member of the Senate. If there is such a request, then the House and Senate meet in separate sessions to consider it. The objection is only sustained if both chambers agree to it by a simple majority vote. Legislators are indeed in talks to update that law. Republican Sen. Susan Collins said in an interview on Sunday that she was “hopeful that we can come up with a bipartisan bill that will make very clear that the vice president’s role is simply ministerial, that he has no ability to halt the count.” Michael McConell, a law professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, said there are some ambiguities within the Electoral Count Act that could be shored up, including language referring to how Congress handles competing slates of electors from a state when the law says only those that are “regularly given” shall be counted. But none of the ambiguities could be reasonably interpreted as giving the vice president the power to unilaterally overturn an election’s results, said McConell, a former federal appellate judge. He said there was no serious basis for that claim. Lawmakers are also proposing changes to the Electoral Count Act regarding the threshold required for members of Congress to raise objections to a state’s electoral votes, and the grounds for raising such objections.

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


Trucks, crowds at Canada anti-vaccination protest exaggerated

CLAIM: Law enforcement officials in Canada report over 100,000 trucks and millions of people showed up last weekend in Ottawa for a vaccine mandate protest.

THE FACTS: No such estimates have been provided by the law enforcement agencies named in posts circulating on social media — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police, representatives said. As thousands of protesters gathered in Ottawa over the weekend to rally against vaccine mandates, numerous false claims about the event spread on social media. Some cited exaggerated crowd numbers, wrongly attributed to Canadian law enforcement, while others shared miscaptioned photos to erroneously suggest they showed the trucker demonstrations. Posts circulating Saturday and Sunday stated: “The OPP have reported over 100,000 trucks in Ottawa, an estimated 2.3 million on foot and an ‘abudance’ of trucks parked in fields just outside of the city. RCMP reports over 130,000 trucks in the city and more than 20,000 parked in fields outside of the city.” But the claims are false, spokespersons for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police told The Associated Press. “We are able to confirm that the RCMP did not issue any numbers publicly in relation to this,” Stéphanie Dumoulin, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email to the AP. “These numbers did not come from the Ontario Provincial Police,” Bill Dickson, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed in a separate email to the AP. “We have not released any numbers.” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly estimated there were about 8,000 people at the protest in the city on Saturday, according to Amy Gagnon, a spokesperson for the agency. Some protesters parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Others carried signs and flags with swastikas and some used the statue of Canadian hero Terry Fox to display an anti-vaccine statement, the AP reported. Some of the demonstrators were protesting a new rule that went into effect on Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The U.S. has mandated the same requirement on truckers entering the country. The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a large number of the protesters had no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. Other social media users this week shared a video of truckers taking part in the annual Feast of San Michele event in Turin, Italy, in 2021, but falsely claimed it showed Italian truckers mobilizing in support of the anti-vaccine protests in Canada on Jan. 28. Similarly, a 2019 photo of an unrelated protest in the Netherlands was misrepresented to incorrectly suggest it showed farmers blocking a freeway in solidarity with the Canadian protests.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report with additional reporting from Beatrice Dupuy in New York and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta.


Canadian prime minister remained in Ottawa area amid protests

CLAIM: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been “hiding out” in the U.S. as a convoy of truckers and protesters demonstrate against vaccine mandates in Ottawa.

THE FACTS: The prime minister’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that Trudeau has not left Canada. Trudeau was also recorded giving a press conference in the Canadian capital region on Monday, the same day that some social media users falsely claimed he was in the U.S. Additionally, public itineraries released by the prime minister’s office show that he has remained near Ottawa, the capital of Canada, for more than a week. But as thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns, several social media users pushed the falsehood that Trudeau fled Canada for the U.S. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, amplified the idea on Monday, tweeting to his nearly 85,000 followers: “If Justin Trudeau is hiding in the United States, we should return him to Canada and make him face his own people immediately. No safe haven for fleeing COVID tyrants. #LiveFree #DeportTrudeau.” Roy’s tweet came hours after Trudeau had given a public address from the Ottawa area in which he called for unity and condemned acts of violence at the protests. The prime minister has been isolating at hom e in Ottawa since Thursday, after learning he had been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, Trudeau announced he also tested positive for the virus. Canadian rules mandate that fully-vaccinated people who test positive must isolate at home for five days and until symptoms improve. People who test positive for COVID-19 are not permitted to travel. There’s no evidence that Trudeau has recently traveled outside of Canada, either. Itineraries released by his office show that he was based in the Ottawa capital region for all of last week, and for most of January. A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office confirmed the daily, public itineraries accurately reflect the locations provided and that Trudeau “did not and has not left Canada.” A number of protesters have remained in the capital this week.

— Sophia Tulp


False claim spreads about Japanese ivermectin study, despite correction

CLAIM: A Japanese study “says ivermectin is effective against Omicron in phase III trial.”

THE FACTS: While scientists continue to conduct research into the drug’s use against COVID-19, the finding being cited refers to pre-clinical research — not a “phase III trial,” which involves testing the drug on humans. Social media users are sharing the false information about a Japanese company’s research into using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, after Reuters published an erroneous headline Monday that it soon corrected. The inaccurate headline stated: “Japan’s Kowa says ivermectin effective against Omicron in phase III trial.” The story made it appear that the results broke significant new ground. “Phase III” clinical trials are conducted on people. But the research done by Kowa Co. Ltd. was conducted in a lab. The report was based on an announcement from Kowa that said ivermectin showed “antiviral” effects against omicron and other variants in pre-clinical research. Kowa said in a statement to the AP that “the press release announced that ivermectin was effective against Omicron strain” in an “in vitro study (i.e. non-clinical study), not in the clinical study.” The company said it was currently conducting a study on volunteers to further evaluate the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19. Reuters soon corrected its story and acknowledged the mistake. Its current headline reads: “Ivermectin shows ‘antiviral effect’ against COVID, Japanese company says.” But social media accounts continue to share the falsehood. Ivermectin is approved in the U.S. in tablet form to treat parasitic worms as well as a topical solution to treat external parasites. The drug is also available for animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19. And a National Institutes of Health panel on COVID-19 treatment guidelines has said there is “insufficient evidence” to “recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.” A 2020 study in Australia found ivermectin inhibited the replication of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in a laboratory setting. But Dr. David Fajgenbaum, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who directs a database tracking research into treatments for COVID-19, said that showing a drug to be effective in lab tests on cells is a “starting point.” Fajgenbaum said there have been 25 randomized controlled trials — a gold-standard for research — studying ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. The trials have collectively involved more than 2,000 patients, he said, and the results have been mixed. “In my opinion, there’s a possibility of benefit, but given that so many trials have been done, if it clearly was effective you would expect that the majority of trials would show that it was effective,” Fajgenbaum said. “If something works, then it should be a rare occurrence that a trial is done and it doesn’t show that it works.”

— Angelo Fichera


US congressman shares neo-Nazi’s quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire

CLAIM: French philosopher Voltaire said: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

THE FACTS: Enlightenment-era writer Voltaire did not say this. The quote, which was paraphrased, comes from a 1993 radio broadcast by Kevin Alfred Strom, who has been identified as a neo-Nazi by organizations that monitor hate groups. U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, shared the incorrectly attributed quote in a tweet Sunday to his more than 320,000 followers, with a caption criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. The tweet contained a cartoon image along with the phrase: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize – Voltaire.” Massie, who has been critical of pandemic mask and vaccine mandates, said in the caption of the post: “You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science.” Many social media users quickly pointed out that the quote was wrongly attributed to Voltaire. Still, it was shared more than 7,000 times, including by many believing the attribution was correct. As of Friday, Massie’s tweet remained online and the congressman had not publicly commented on the error. His office did not respond to a request for comment. The original quote from Strom, an American white nationalist and Holocaust denier, has been used previously online and paraphrased in a variety of ways. In a 1993 radio broadcast, Strom said: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” according to an internet archive containing his full remarks. Despite the quote originating more than a hundred years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, it has been repurposed and incorrectly attributed to him dozens of times. In 2019, actor John Cusack tweeted the quote before deleting the post and apologizing. Strom again took credit for the quote in a 2017 blog post in which he wrote: “My statement has become the stuff of Internet memes, quote collections, graphics, and motivational posters. … Trouble is, the quote is almost always attributed to the 18th-century French writer Voltaire, and not to me.”

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.


No plan for fourth round of federal stimulus checks, despite claims

CLAIM: The IRS will issue a fourth round of stimulus checks to Americans in February 2022.

THE FACTS: While some states have created stimulus programs for their own residents, Congress has not approved any plans to issue another round of nationwide stimulus checks. A spokesperson for the IRS confirmed that there have been three rounds of economic impact payments in total. Posts circulating widely on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube this week shared different versions of the baseless claim that a fourth round of federal stimulus checks was coming this month. One post on Facebook falsely claimed $2,000 checks would be deposited in bank accounts nationwide on Feb. 9, while a blog headline hinted many Americans may be eligible for $1,400 in relief in the near future. Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers approved three rounds of stimulus payments to American households, up to $1,200 per person in March 2020, up to $600 per person in December 2020 and up to $1,400 per person in March 2021. But Congress, which would have to approve any new government spending for nationwide stimulus, has not to date authorized another wave of payments from the federal government. IRS spokesman Anthony Burke confirmed in an email that there were three rounds of economic impact payments, all of which were already paid. Some advocates have urged the federal government to issue more direct payments to American households. In March, a group of 21 Democratic senators called for President Joe Biden to include recurring payments in his “Build Back Better” long-term economic plan. In May, asked about whether one of the bills in that plan could include a fourth round of direct payments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki punted back to Congress, saying, “We’ll see what members of Congress propose, but those are not free.” Meanwhile, some states have taken initiative to issue economic stimulus payments to their own residents. In California, for example, residents who have filed their 2020 tax returns and made less than $75,000 that year are eligible for payments through a “Golden State Stimulus” program. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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


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