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:
No link found between COVID-19 vaccines and male infertility
CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines cause male infertility.
THE FACTS: Claims that the vaccines cause infertility in men are not supported by evidence, according to research and experts. The claim surfaced in recent days following research that suggested COVID-19 could have an effect on male fertility. In social media posts twisting that research, users suggested that the vaccines, not the disease, were actually to blame. “Another ‘effect’ from the injections,” one tweet reads. Experts say there is no basis for the claim that the vaccines have such a side effect. “There is no evidence indicating that the COVID vaccine can cause male infertility,” Amelia Wesselink, a research assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University, wrote in an email. Dr. Marc Goldstein, surgeon in chief of male reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, similarly told The Associated Press that “there is absolutely no evidence that the vaccines affect male fertility.” Wesselink added: “Studies have shown no differences in sperm parameters before and after vaccination, and a study of couples trying to conceive without fertility treatment found no association between vaccination in either partner and fertility.” The latter study, co-authored by Wesselink, did report that there was an association between men being infected with the coronavirus and a short-term decline in fertility; the researchers said that may be explained by a fever. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no significant decreases in the sperm count of 45 healthy, vaccinated men. The men were assessed before receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and 70 days after receiving their second dose. A co-author of the recently released study examining the effects of COVID-19 on male fertility that was cited in the social media posts also said that the research had no relation to the COVID-19 vaccines. “We did not claim that our study is related to the vaccine or its effect,” Dr. Sanjeeva Srivastava, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, said in an email. He said the men in the study, conducted in India, were not vaccinated prior to semen samples being collected. He said that the collection was from COVID-19 recovered patients and taken between October 2020 and December 2020, prior to COVID-19 vaccines rolling out in India in early 2021. The results found that those with prior COVID-19 showed an issue with several proteins associated with male reproduction. He added that further research is required.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
Miami Open withdrawals weren’t caused by COVID vaccine effects
CLAIM: Fifteen tennis players dropped out of the 2022 Miami Open due to COVID-19 vaccine-related complications.
THE FACTS: None of the athletes who withdrew or retired during the tournament did so because of COVID-19 vaccine side effects, according to the official causes listed by the Association of Tennis Professionals, Women’s Tennis Association, and published by the tournament organizer. Social media users shared baseless claims that the high number of withdrawals and retirements were caused by the vaccines following news that two top players, Jannik Sinner, from Italy, and Paula Badosa, of Spain, had to retire from the final rounds of the tournament this month. In tennis, a “retirement” is when an athlete has to pull out during a competition because of an injury, illness or personal reason, causing the player to forfeit their place. A “withdrawal” is when a player decides not to play all matches in an event. The ATP publicly confirmed Sinner was suffering from foot blisters and the WTA said Badosa had a viral illness at the time. Still, some social media users and a report by One America News Network spread unfounded claims about what happened, even after the causes of the athletes’ retirements were publicly disclosed. The more than a dozen other retirements or withdrawals at the 2022 Miami Open were not linked to vaccines, either, according to the official results released by the ATP, WTA and published by the Miami Open. Four players on the men’s side either withdrew or retired during the tournament. In addition to Sinner, the other two retirements were caused by a right foot injury and a right shoulder injury. The one withdrawal was due to a right hand injury. On the women’s side, the WTA and Miami Open list 15 players who either withdrew or retired during the tournament. Seven women retired in addition to Badosa, with reasons listed as lower back pain, a foot injury, heat illness, a right thigh injury, an abdominal injury, a personal reason and thigh injuries affecting two separate players. The seven withdrawals were caused by a left arm injury, an abdominal injury, a right wrist injury, a left shoulder injury, a left thigh injury, a right ankle injury and an unspecified viral illness. While this year’s count is higher than those of years past, it isn’t unheard of to have dropout rates into the double digits. For example, the last two times the tournament was held, in 2021 and 2019, a total of 11 tennis players, both men and women, either retired or withdrew. Before that, the highest number in recent years was in 2016, when 12 players withdrew or retired. A representative for the ATP did not comment on the claims, and representatives for the WTA and Miami Open did not respond to requests for comment. The Associated Press has also previously reported on misleading claims that COVID-19 vaccines have caused an alarming wave of deaths and cardiac issues among otherwise healthy athletes. Experts say there is no supporting evidence for the claim, and cardiologists have told the AP that cases of sudden cardiac arrest have been documented among athletes well before the pandemic began. While a rare risk of myocarditis has been associated with the mRNA vaccines, health officials have concluded that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.
Inaccurate inflation figures circulate on social media
CLAIM: The U.S. inflation rate jumped from 1.7% in 2017 under President Donald Trump to 14% in 2021 under President Joe Biden.
THE FACTS: While inflation has gone up during Biden’s administration, the numbers given in a popular social media post comparing the rate in each year from 2017 through 2022 are not correct, according to economics experts and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. As prices for everyday items climb, social media users are sharing the list, which purports to show the inflation rate for each year of Trump and Biden’s administrations. The list gives inflation rates as 1.7% for 2017, 1.65% for 2018, 1.7% for 2019 and 1.4% for 2020, noting that Trump was president during these years. It then falsely claims the rate under Biden in 2021 was 14% and that it is 14.9% in 2022. But the numbers are inaccurate, understating the actual inflation rates for most of the Trump years, and dramatically overstating them for Biden’s administration, according to experts and government data. Inflation is calculated using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index data. According to that data, the percentage change in the approximate total consumer price index in December 2017 from 12 months earlier was 2.1%, 1.9% for the same period in 2018, 2.3% in 2019 and 1.3% in 2020. Meanwhile, the change for December 2021, the first year of Biden’s administration, was 7.1%, not 14%. Comparable data for 2022 doesn’t exist yet, but the Labor Department announced on Tuesday that the consumer price index jumped to 8.5% in March 2022 compared with 12 months earlier, which is the sharpest yearly increase since 1981. Monika Piazzesi, a professor of economics at Stanford University, pointed to the consumer price index for the correct inflation data. Piazzesi noted that inflation is “an international phenomenon” – citing high rates in Germany, Italy, France and the U.K. – which she said “makes it hard to blame the president of just one country.” Many economists, however, have blamed Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in part for causing inflation to run higher than it otherwise would.
— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in New York contributed this report.
Posts misrepresent satirical article about Disney stock price
CLAIM: Disney shareholders are in a “panic” after losing $2.4 billion in one day.
THE FACTS: While The Walt Disney Co.’s stock price has dropped recently, and the company’s market valuation went down by several billion dollars some days last week, financial experts told The Associated Press that the fluctuations were normal for a multi-billion dollar company and not cause for panic. Posts falsely claiming that Disney shareholders are panicking after the company’s stock value plummeted come amid Disney’s public opposition to a controversial new Florida law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to third grade. On Facebook, users shared links and screenshots of a post on a satirical website with the headline, “Disney Shareholders In a Panic After $2.4 Billion in Losses in One Day,” as if it was a real news article. The post went on to claim that traders at the New York Stock Exchange were “in tears after watching their clients lose billions after Disney’s announcement to go woke.” On Twitter, some users shared variations of the headline without referring to the article at all. The article, which appears to have been posted on April 7, is clearly satire. The website, Patriot Party Press, states on its “About Us” page, “Everything on this website is fiction.” The byline on the article is “Flagg Eagleton-Patriot.” It is true that Disney’s stock has had a broad downward trajectory in recent months and dropped several points on some days during the week of April 4, closing that Monday at roughly $138 per share and at $131.87 on that Friday. Some of that week’s price drops did result in the stock’s value being reduced by $2 billion or more in a single day, according to experts. But these fluctuations aren’t noteworthy or unusual for a multi-billion dollar company, said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University. Disney’s market capitalization is about $238 billion, and the value can change by “a billion dollars here or there” if the stock price fluctuates by just 50 cents, he noted. “This is within the normal fluctuations that you see on a daily basis,” Angel said. Disney’s stock price actually went up the day after the Florida law was signed on March 28 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the company released a statement saying its goal was “for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.” Geoffrey Smith, a finance professor at Arizona State University, agreed that the recent fluctuations are normal. Volatility in the overall market likely has a bigger impact on the company’s daily stock price than the actions of individual investors or controversy over the company’s position on the new Florida law, he added. Angel pointed to the massive drop in the stock price of Facebook’s parent company, Meta, last February, as an example of actual investor panic. After Meta reported a decline in profits, the company’s shares fell by over 26% in a single afternoon of trading, the AP reported. The Florida law has drawn criticism from across the country, including from LGBTQ advocacy groups and Democratic President Joe Biden, who called it “hateful,” the AP reported. Before Disney came out publicly against the law, it faced backlash from some of its employees for not taking a stand. Disney, which is Florida’s largest private-sector employer, did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.
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