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:
CLAIM: Yellowstone National Park officials have “closed down the park” due to a rising “volcanic uplift.”
THE FACTS: The national park is open and experts say there are no concerns of an impending volcanic eruption. But a video circulating on Facebook is using alarming imagery of fiery disasters to falsely claim Yellowstone officials “are closing down the park” because “volcanic uplift is rising.” Experts say the video gets the facts wrong. “The park is open for the winter season and has not been closed,” Linda Veress, a spokesperson for Yellowstone, told The Associated Press in an email. The National Park Service website notes that most roads at the park are currently closed to automobiles but open to oversnow vehicles, as is routine during the winter. That doesn’t mean the park is closed or that it’s experiencing dangerous “uplift,” which refers to the rising of the ground. “This idea of volcanic uplift in Yellowstone is complete hogwash,” Michael Poland, scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, said in an interview. He said Yellowstone has actually experienced a trend of subsidence, or deflation, since 2015. Uplift occurs at volcanoes when magma accumulates beneath the surface, Poland said, but it can also be the result of things like water or gas accumulation. For example, Yellowstone can experience a minor uplift when the ground absorbs runoff from melting snow — like a dry sponge absorbing water and growing. Kari Cooper, a professor and chair of the University of California, Davis, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, likewise said in an email that such ground deformation can be caused by a number of factors. “The ground surface at Yellowstone is moving all the time, sometimes up and sometimes down, and it would not be cause for concern unless it was outside the normal patterns,” she said. Poland added that the magma is largely stagnant at Yellowstone and experts are not currently worried about any sort of volcanic eruption.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
CLAIM: A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proves that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causes blood clots.
THE FACTS: The research showed an association between elderly recipients of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and pulmonary embolisms, but the authors note that the findings do not prove a link to the vaccine. Still, social media users are misinterpreting the study to falsely claim it proves that the FDA has admitted that Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot causes blood clots. The researchers evaluated more than a dozen health-related events of interest following COVID-19 vaccination among recipients 65 and older, using Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data. The rates of each event were compared to historical rates. Researchers found that rates of pulmonary embolism — blood clots in the lungs — met the threshold to be considered a statistical signal, which means an association between the vaccine and the health event was detected. However, the researchers concluded in the paper that the FDA is currently not taking any regulatory actions based on the detection, because “the signals are still under investigation and require more robust study.” The study also notes that the new findings “should be interpreted cautiously” because they do not prove that the vaccine caused the outcomes. Abby Capobianco, a press officer for the FDA, wrote in an email statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday, “The FDA has not found any new causal relationships between the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and potential adverse events of special interest identified in 2021.” The study authors also outlined several important limitations of the research. For example, the analysis did not adjust for underlying risk factors such as comorbidities among some recipients. Dr. Jeffrey Olin, a cardiologist and professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York, reiterated that the paper found a “signal,” but emphasized that this is not the same as causation. “There was a slightly increased signal in that vaccine compared to the other ones they tested,” said Olin. “So you can’t assess causation. All you can say is there’s an association. And then if you want to assess causation you need to have a much more sophisticated study.” Olin noted that the group who received the Pfizer vaccine were older, more likely to be in nursing homes and had more comorbidities that would put them in the hospital — all things that are associated with blood clotting. Pfizer declined to comment on the study specifically but wrote in a statement that adverse events reported after vaccination can’t immediately be attributed to the vaccine.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report with additional reporting from Josh Kelety in Phoenix.
CLAIM: New Zealand intelligence officials published a booklet asking people to report friends or family members who are critical of coronavirus-related policy measures as terrorists.
THE FACTS: The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service confirmed that it is not asking people to report those who oppose COVID-19 public health measures. Posts spread widely across social media platforms claiming that New Zealand intelligence officials published a booklet asking people to report friends and family members who oppose COVID-19 measures as terrorists. Included in the posts was a video clip of an October news segment discussing a new government booklet designed to help people identify signs of radicalization. In the segment, the head of New Zealand’s domestic spying agency does at one point mention opposition to COVID-19 policies. The comment comes after the narrator discusses how a new group of potential terrorists “motivated by politics” has emerged in the country. The video cuts to New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge saying, “So it could be the COVID measures that the government took, or it could be other policies that are interpreted as infringing on rights, and it’s what I sometimes describe as a kind of hot mess of ideologies and beliefs fueled by conspiracy theories.” The video circulating on social media appears to be edited from the original to repeat Kitteridge’s “COVID measures” comment. But the booklet itself, which can be read online, does not list opposition or criticism of COVID-19 policies as an indicator of violent extremism, nor does it make any mention of the coronavirus. Some of the indicators listed in the booklet include acquiring ingredients for making explosives and expressing a willingness to die for a violent extremist cause. The booklet does not “ask the public to report anyone for opposing COVID-19 health measures,” a New Zealand Security Intelligence Service spokesperson wrote in an email to the AP. “To be clear, we are not interested in (or indeed legally permitted to investigate) people who are simply exercising their democratic right to protest against, or oppose, government policy,” the spokesperson added. “We are interested in knowing about people who may be exhibiting signs of mobilising towards an act of violent extremism.”
— Josh Kelety
CLAIM: A U.S. Postal Service uniform store was robbed in Tennessee in a scheme to impersonate postal workers and break into homes.
THE FACTS: The U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement division, which investigates robberies and burglaries of postal facilities, says it has not received any recent reports of such a scheme. Social media users spread the warnings of a postal service scam to claim without evidence that people are breaking into homes posing as mail carriers ahead of the holidays. “Please be alert the united states postal service uniform store was broke in over the weekend uniforms were stolen & they are wearing them showing up at people homes stating they have a package for them & when the door is opened they force there way in robbing people at gun point,” wrote one social Facebook user who received nearly 4,000 shares on the post. The user did not say where the alleged robberies were taking place or give any evidence. Searches for recent news reports about such a crime did not return any results. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency’s law enforcement division, said in a statement to The Associated Press that it had not received any reports of “uniform store” thefts. In fact, Dan Mihalko, a spokesperson for the inspection service, said the division wasn’t aware of the U.S. Postal Service having any such dedicated stores that sell only uniforms. He said postal uniforms are purchased through authorized vendors who also sell other types of uniforms. While the original poster did not give location details, one Facebook user in the comments claimed it happened in Nutbush, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in Brownsville. The chief of the Brownsville Police Department told the AP that the agency had not received any reports involving postal uniform thefts or related home invasions. While Memphis, Tennessee, also includes a small neighborhood called Nutbush, a public information officer for the city police department told the AP that the agency had not received any reports of crimes matching this description, either.
— Sophia Tulp
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