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

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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 real facts:

CLAIM: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has been quietly closing offices in South Carolina as a sign his campaign is ending.

THE FACTS: Sanders is not closing his campaign offices in South Carolina. In fact, Sanders has nine offices in the state and the campaign is expanding locations, Sarah Ford, a campaign spokeswoman for the Vermont senator, told The Associated Press in an email. The campaign opened an office in Aiken, South Carolina, two weeks ago, she said. Social media users began circulating the claim on Twitter and Facebook on Sunday to make it appear as though Sanders was winding down his campaign. VineSight, a technology company that tracks misinformation, identified the false posts spreading online on Wednesday. One Twitter account, which displayed support for Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, received thousands of likes on its post with the false claim. Harris announced Tuesday she was dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Last month, Sanders replaced his campaign’s South Carolina director. The state has been a focus for Sanders’ 2020 campaign after he lost to Hillary Clinton there by 47 points in the 2016 Democratic primary.


CLAIM: Video shows Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II reprimanding her daughter Princess Anne for not greeting Trump at a NATO reception at Buckingham Palace.

THE FACTS: Princess Anne had already escorted President Donald Trump and wife, Melania, to shake hands with the monarch when the queen turned and looked at her daughter. “It’s just me,” Anne said, motioning that no more world leaders were left in the greeting line. A shorter version of the clip appears to show the queen glaring at her daughter. A longer clip shows that Princess Anne walked in with Trump and the first lady. The Trumps were the last in line to be greeted by the queen, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, in the palace’s Music Room. After the queen shook hands and spoke with Trump and the first lady, she turned to Princess Anne to see which world leader was next. The queen gestures to Anne, who is standing with members of the household at the end of the line. “It’s just me,” she says, adding, “and this lot.” One video post on Twitter that portrayed Anne’s reaction as a snub was viewed more than 3 million times in a 24-hour period.


CLAIM: Fox News posts a “fake picture” to show soldiers excited to see Trump in Afghanistan…forgets to take out the Universal Studios sign in the background.

THE FACTS: The image that circulated on Facebook with the false claim was digitally altered to add a sign that makes it appear the photo was staged at the film studio. The photo, which shows soldiers smiling and clapping, was taken Nov. 28 as President Donald Trump arrived at Bagram Airfield for a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan. It was shot by Olivier Douliery for Agence France Presse. There is no poster for Universal on the wall. Associated Press photos from a similar angle show a blank wall behind the soldiers. The Fox News segment about the surprise visit does not include the image. A Facebook user uploaded the doctored image on Dec. 2 with the caption: “Fox propaganda posts a fake picture to show soldiers excited to see Trump in Afghanistan….forgets to take out the Universal Studios sign in the background.”


CLAIM: Police in Oklahoma used “PIG” as the name on a Starbucks order from a mobile app to plant a false story for sympathy.

THE FACTS: A Starbucks employee used “PIG” on a Thanksgiving Day order placed in person by a police officer in Kiefer, Oklahoma, according to a joint press release issued by Starbucks and Kiefer police. The officer was buying five beverages for 911 dispatchers as a thank you for working the holiday. A claim circulated on Twitter suggesting that police submitted “pig” as the name on the order to draw sympathy. “Starbucks has a profanity filter in place to prevent things like this from happening. The only way for the name “pig” to show up on a cup is for the customer to set that as their own name in the mobile order app. In other words, the pig cops faked this for a bullshit sob story,” the post stated. The order was not made using the app because the word “cafe” was printed on the label. he false tweet received over 90,000 retweets and 430,000 likes. The company said in a Nov. 29 statement that the employee who wrote the “offensive word on a cup” exercised poor judgment and was no longer a Starbucks employee after violating company policy. Kiefer Police Chief Johnny O’Mara called the store after the officer told him of the situation, according to a report published by The Associated Press, and posted a picture of one of the cups on social media. The police chief did not respond to a request for further comment from the AP.


CLAIM: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office deleted 19,000 text messages between former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok.

THE FACTS: The unfounded claim that thousands of text messages between the former FBI lawyer and agent were purposely deleted resurfaced following the publication Sunday of an interview Page gave to the The Daily Beast. A report by the Justice Department’s watchdog found no evidence that text messages between Strzok and Page were intentionally destroyed. Strzok was fired in 2018 from his post as an FBI agent over anti-Trump text messages he exchanged with Page, who resigned from her position at the agency. Both worked on the probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email server in 2016. The Justice Department inspector general reviewed a gap in text messages sent between December 2016 through May 2017 from the Samsung Galaxy phones issued to Strzok and Page. The inspector general’s December 2018 report found no evidence the text messages were intentionally deleted by Mueller or any other Justice Department employee. The review concluded that large portions of FBI text messages were not archived because of an FBI-wide software failure. When Strzok and Page returned the phones issued to them, both were reset to factory setting and had no content from their use. The FBI ultimately managed to recover thousands of the messages. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have previously suggested the messages were intentionally deleted by the FBI or Mueller himself. Upon discovering the anti-Trump text messages, Mueller removed Strzok from the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and Trump’s presidential campaign.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.


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