Social media misinformation: A look at what didn’t happen this week


FILE – In this Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020 file photo, debris remains on the sidewalks in front of buildings damaged in a Christmas Day explosion in Nashville, Tenn. On Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting the explosion was caused by a missile or some kind of directed energy weapon. Surveillance video from a Metro Nashville Police Department camera at the intersection of 2nd Avenue North and Commerce Street captured the explosion and offers proof that the blast came from a parked recreational vehicle. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

Nashville explosion was caused by a bomb, not a missile

CLAIM: Video shows that Nashville explosion was caused by a missile or some kind of directed energy weapon.

THE FACTS: The explosion was caused by a bomb inside a parked recreational vehicle in downtown Nashville. Social media users shared grainy surveillance video from the Dec. 25 explosion, and pointed to a streak of smoke to falsely claim that the blast was caused by a bomb or a directed energy weapon. “Looking like a missile strike now. Video proof. Explains why the airspace was locked down,” wrote one Twitter user on Dec. 26. Similar false claims circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Parler. Police have identified Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, who was killed in the explosion, as the person responsible for the blast.

AT&T not conducting voting machine audit near Nashville explosion site

CLAIM: AT&T got a contract to do a forensic audit of Dominion Voting Systems machines and those machines were recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee — to the same AT&T building that was damaged in a Christmas morning explosion.

THE FACTS: AT&T did not have a contract to audit Dominion machines and was not holding Dominion machines in its Nashville building, both companies confirmed to The Associated Press. But as federal officials work to piece together a motive for the Christmas morning blast that rattled downtown Nashville, including damage to an AT&T-owned building, social media users have made baseless claims connecting the explosion to voting machines used in the Nov. 3 election. “AT&T got a contract to do forensic audit on Dominion voting machines and those machines were being moved to Nashville this past week,” read one post. “So, the explosion ‘just happened’ to be at the AT&T location where they ‘just so happen’ to control the cooling system for the super computer and house the dominion voting machines and drives for forensic audit…” Dominion has been the target of a wide range of false posts since American voters chose Joe Biden as their next president, despite no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in the 2020 election.

Brother of Georgia SOS is not a Chinese tech firm executive

CLAIM: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has a brother, Ron, who works for a Chinese tech firm, Huawei.

THE FACTS: Social media posts and a fictitious story circulating online falsely claim that the top election official in Georgia has a brother named Ron, who works as an executive for the Chinese tech giant Huawei. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger does not have a brother named Ron, his office confirmed Wednesday. He has three sisters and a brother, his office said. A 2018 family obituary the AP reviewed also confirms his brother is not named Ron. Social media posts making the false claim suggest Raffensperger should be investigated because of his brother’s Huawei connection. The company has been at the center of rising tensions between the U.S. and Chinese over technology security. President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed restrictions on the Chinese company, cutting off its access to U.S. components and technology. Trump also tweeted out the false claim about Raffensperger’s brother on Tuesday night. “Now it turns out that Brad R’s brother works for China and they definitely don’t want ‘Trump’. So disgusting!” Trump said in his inaccurate tweet. Raffensperger, who oversees Georgia’s elections, has been the target of death threats and misinformation since President Donald Trump’s presidential race loss in Georgia by more than 11,000 votes. A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment.

Posts misrepresent study examining household coronavirus transmission

CLAIM: University of Florida researchers found “no asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread of Covid” in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting a recent study, leading to the spread of misinformation about COVID-19. A false post that was shared on Dec. 27 reads: “University of Florida researchers have found no asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread of Covid. The study was published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association. This could change everything.” The post had amassed more than 35,000 retweets a day later, and was also shared widely on Facebook. Social media users shared the false post to justify arguments that shutting down businesses and schools during the pandemic was unnecessary. But a spokesperson for the network of journals published by the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed to The Associated Press that no study with such conclusions had been published by the network. “Certainly we are seeing presymptomatic transmissions before they develop symptoms,” said Natalie E. Dean, a co-author of the study and a University of Florida assistant professor of biostatistics — a point that is also made clearly in the article text. She called presymptomatic transmission “an important feature of this virus” and said “our policies need to reflect that.” People who are infected with COVID-19 but are not experiencing symptoms cannot know whether or not they will develop them. Dean noted that even if it is the case that people who have symptoms and are coughing are more infectious, someone without symptoms could wind up spreading the virus more if they are continuing to interact with other people. The published study says “important questions remain” about household spread, including how infectious asymptomatic, mildly ill and severely ill cases are.

There were not more votes than voters in Pennsylvania

CLAIM: There were 205,000 more votes than voters in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

THE FACTS: A misleading claim about election results based on incomplete data is circulating widely on social media a week before Congress meets to reaffirm Joe Biden’s decisive presidential win. The claim emerged in a Monday press release from Pennsylvania Republican state lawmakers, including state Rep. Frank Ryan. “A comparison of official county election results to the total number of voters who voted on Nov. 3, 2020, as recorded by the Department of State shows that 6,962,607 total ballots were reported as being cast, while DoS/SURE system records indicate that only 6,760,230 total voters actually voted,” the release said. The claim then spread to several right-wing websites and social media influencers, including Trump, whose tweet claiming Pennsylvania had 205,000 more votes than voters was retweeted more than 117,000 times. However, these claims rely on incomplete data, according to Wanda Murren, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of State, who called the lawmakers’ release “obvious misinformation.”

Posts falsely claim there are only 133 million registered voters in the US

CLAIM: There are 133 million registered voters in the United States so if President Donald Trump got 74 million votes, President-elect Joe Biden could not have received 81 million votes.

THE FACTS: The number of registered voters in the U.S. is much greater than 133 million. But false claims about the 2020 presidential election persist online, including the bogus allegation that vote tallies in the presidential race don’t add up because they exceed the total number of registered voters in the country. “Donald Trump got 74 million votes and There are 133 million registered voters in the USA,” reads a popular but inaccurate tweet that was shared thousands of times on both Twitter and Facebook. “If every single registered voter went out and voted there would only be 59 million votes left for Biden. How did he get 81 million votes?” The posts are false because they rely on an incorrect number of total registered voters. A survey of election officials from all over the country by the Election Assistance Commission found there were 211 million Americans on voter rolls ahead of the 2018 election. The 133 million figure shared on social media is also far lower than the more than 136 million ballots cast in the 2016 election.

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