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

National/World

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:


Fauci had no involvement in study on monkey threat responses

CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s experiments include one that magnified terror in the brains of monkeys and subjected them to frightening stimuli.

THE FACTS: A tweet that circulated widely across platforms this week falsely suggested a study decried by animal activists was among “Fauci’s experiments,” despite the fact that the nation’s top infectious disease expert had no part in the research, nor did the institute he directs, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Reading through Fauci’s experiments and the one I find most alarming is the use of an acid to destroy a region of monkeys’ brains to magnify terror,” read the tweet, first posted by the conservative commentator Candace Owens. “They then simulated images of spiders and tormented them with fear. Human DNA is 97% identical to apes. Why fund that research?” In reality, the research mentioned in the tweet was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health that is separate from the one Fauci heads. “Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is not involved and has never been involved in this study,” NIMH’s press team said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, the study was not funded by NIAID.” NIMH also disputed the framing of the tweet, saying that while the study did use lesioning techniques to alter the brains of monkeys, it was “critically important” research to learn more about brain circuits that help with emotion expression and regulation. In the 2019 study, researchers used injections of acid to target areas of the brain in rhesus macaques. They then observed the monkeys responding to a fake rubber snake, a fake spider and neutral stimuli. The study authors said their work provided “insights into the neural regulation of defensive responses to threat and inform the etiology and treatment of anxiety disorders in humans.” While the study in question found monkeys with the lesions had an increased defensive response to threat, other research has found that brain lesions blunted or had no effect on emotional threat responses in monkeys. Several animal activist groups and federal lawmakers have publicly criticized this research and other studies involving monkeys at the NIH. Responding to such criticism, NIMH defended its use of the primates, saying, “monkeys are critical for studying these brain circuits because their brains are structurally and functionally similar to human brains.” NIMH added that animals used in its research are protected by laws, regulations and policies that are intended to ensure a commitment to animal welfare. Owens did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Her tweet followed scrutiny of several experiments using dogs — some of which were funded in part by the Fauci-run NIAID.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report with additional reporting by Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta.


Incorrect comparisons made between refugee aid, social security payments

CLAIM: Refugees resettled in the U.S. receive $2,125 per month from the government, while Social Security recipients only receive an average of $1,400 per month.

THE FACTS: Posts sharing inaccurate comparisons between the amount of government funding given to refugees seeking resettlement in the U.S. and monthly payments received by Social Security beneficiaries have been circulating for months on Twitter and other platforms. The State Department defines a refugee under the Immigration and Nationality Act as someone who has experienced persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, making them eligible for resettlement in U.S. communities. Social media users have incorrectly claimed that refugees receive $2,125 per month from the government, while Social Security recipients who have been paying into the system for years only receive an average of $1,400 per month. “The assertion made in the Twitter post is inaccurate,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price wrote in an email to the AP. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration offers a one-time, per capita amount of $2,275 to resettlement agencies, and of that amount, $1,225 is available for agencies to use toward refugees’ initial housing, food, clothing and furniture costs. The rest of the funds go toward services including assistance with cultural orientation, assistance with enrollment in English language services and school, access to immigration assistance and referral to other social, medical and employment services. Assistance is only provided directly to refugees in the “rare event” they have established family or friend relationships who are able to meet their basic needs, such as housing, Price said. In that case, a one-time payment of $1,225 per person is provided directly. After the initial resettlement period, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement works through individual states and nonprofit organizations to connect refugees with language, employment and social services. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s web page states that its Cash and Medical Assistance program, which is similar to Medicaid, lasts for up to eight months from the date of arrival in the U.S. Refugees are also eligible for public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. Social Security helps older Americans, workers who become disabled and families in which a spouse or parent dies. Most workers have to pay Social Security taxes for as long as they are working and qualify for retirement benefits after about 10 years of work. Workers are eligible for the retirement benefits in their 60s, depending on their birth year. When it comes to payments, the Social Security Administration’s monthly statistical snapshot for September 2021, the most recent data, shows that beneficiaries on average received about $1,439 monthly. However, this number changes from month to month and varies greatly depending on the type of benefit.

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


Japan has not substituted ivermectin for COVID-19 vaccines

CLAIM: “Japan has pulled the vaccines and substituted ivermectin — and in one month, wiped COVID out in that country.”

THE FACTS: An article published this week by a conservative radio host recirculated a months-old false claim that Japan had halted the use of coronavirus vaccines in favor of using the parasite drug ivermectin, and that the switch has led to the eradication of coronavirus cases. The claims are not true. Japan has continued to administer vaccines and has not authorized ivermectin for treating COVID-19. The drug is used to treat infections of roundworms and other parasites in humans and animals. Many health officials have warned against ivermectin’s use for COVID-19, saying that it could cause harmful side effects and that there’s little evidence it helps. The drug is not listed by the Japanese government as an approved medicine to treat the coronavirus, according to the Japan Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency’s list of medical products approved for COVID-19. The same list shows that the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines all remain authorized under Special Approval for Emergency use in the country. The false assertion that ivermectin gained approval for use among COVID patients in Japan emerged in August after Haruo Ozaki, the chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, said at a news conference that the drug may have benefits for COVID patients but needs to be studied further. Some people online misinterpreted this as an endorsement of the drug and mischaracterized Ozaki as a government official. But the Tokyo Medical Association is an independent organization. It is not a government agency and does not reflect the official stance of the Japanese Ministry of Health. While Japan did suspend the use of about 1.63 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in August after contamination was found in unused vials, it did not totally stop administering the vaccine. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were unaffected. Japan has recorded more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 650 deaths in the past month, though daily new cases have seen a steep decline from when they surged around the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Experts say an effective vaccine campaign, widespread use of face masks and subdued nightlife could be credited with the decline. About 70% of the population is fully vaccinated.

— Sophia Tulp


Children in video died in stampede, not after receiving COVID-19 vaccine

CLAIM: Video shows 13 children lying on the floor dead after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a school in South Africa.

THE FACTS: The video, taken in 2020, shows children who died in a stampede at school in Kenya. The Department of Health in South Africa confirmed to the AP that the claim being shared was false. The graphic video, which shows a row of children on stretchers with the sounds of wailing in the background, is accompanied by comments that falsely state the children died from the COVID-19 vaccine. It circulated widely across social media and on Telegram with claims the media was not covering the deaths and that tech companies were blocking the video. The Department of Health of South Africa confirmed to the AP that they had not had any reports of deaths of children due to the vaccine. “In fact, this is just misinformation designed to mislead our people, parents and guardians in particular,” Foster Mohale, a health department spokesperson, said in an email. South Africa is not vaccinating children in schools. Those 12 and above can choose to go to vaccination centers to get shot, but it is completely voluntary. The Associated Press reported on the stampede, which took place at Kakamega Primary School in Kenya in February 2020. It occurred after students trampled over each other as they were released for the school day. Fourteen children died in the stampede and 39 others were injured. The AP reported that grief-stricken parents wailed and collapsed at the three hospitals where the bodies of the dead were taken. The cause of the stampede was unclear at the time. The recent false claims about the video began circulating this week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration backed a low dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children in the U.S. The panel voted that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 outweighed any potential risks.

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


Video shows California ceremony, not US troops in Taiwan

CLAIM: A video shows the U.S. military in Taiwan.

THE FACTS: The video in question was filmed in front of City Hall in Monterey Park, California, and shows an annual memorial ceremony commemorating a 1937 battle between Chinese and Japanese troops. A post that circulated on Twitter recently showed a video of people marching with American and Taiwanese flags. A tweet in Chinese falsely claimed that the video showed the U.S. military in Taiwan. The video can be found circulating on Twitter as early as 2018. But the procession was filmed thousands of miles away, outside Monterey Park City Hall, Amy Wang, press division director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, told The Associated Press. The event is hosted each July by the local Taiwanese American community. She could not confirm which year the video was taken, but said those shown in the clip are part of the Taiwanese American community. The annual event commemorates the Marco Polo Bridge incident, a July 1937 conflict between Chinese and Japanese troops near the bridge outside Beijing, which triggered the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but continues to maintain a robust, unofficial relationship with Taiwan. On Thursday, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed that some U.S. troops were on the ground there, the AP reported.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.


Western New York church did not get a liquor license

CLAIM: An image of a newspaper article shows that True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, recently became the first church in New York to obtain a liquor license.

THE FACTS: This claim and the image it appeared in have circulated widely online this week, but they are both fake, True Bethel Baptist Church and The Buffalo News confirmed. “True Bethel Baptist Church becomes the first Church in NYS to receive a Liquor License: Rev. Darius Pridgen thanks Mayor Brown,” read the fake headline in the image, which was made to look like an issue of The Buffalo News. “This is in fact a fake story,” said Amy Yakawiak, information specialist at The Buffalo News, who said it wasn’t clear where the false image originated. “This is completely false,” said Danetta McKinnon, pastor of administration at True Bethel Baptist Church. McKinnon noted that the bogus claim had been circulating since early September. An internet search did not reveal any credible news articles making this claim, and a search of the New York State Liquor Authority’s website did not turn up any legitimate liquor license records matching True Bethel Baptist Church.

— Ali Swenson


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