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

February 18, 2022 GMT
FILE - A protester stands atop a camper van as a convoy drives past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saturday, Feb.12, 2022 in Paris, in protests against virus restrictions inspired by the Canada's horn-honking "Freedom Convoy." On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Parisian police ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.” But tickets were given to protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest.” (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File)
FILE - A protester stands atop a camper van as a convoy drives past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saturday, Feb.12, 2022 in Paris, in protests against virus restrictions inspired by the Canada's horn-honking "Freedom Convoy." On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Parisian police ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.” But tickets were given to protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest.” (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File)
FILE - A protester stands atop a camper van as a convoy drives past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saturday, Feb.12, 2022 in Paris, in protests against virus restrictions inspired by the Canada's horn-honking "Freedom Convoy." On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Parisian police ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.” But tickets were given to protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest.” (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File)
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FILE - A protester stands atop a camper van as a convoy drives past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saturday, Feb.12, 2022 in Paris, in protests against virus restrictions inspired by the Canada's horn-honking "Freedom Convoy." On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Parisian police ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.” But tickets were given to protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest.” (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File)
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FILE - A protester stands atop a camper van as a convoy drives past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saturday, Feb.12, 2022 in Paris, in protests against virus restrictions inspired by the Canada's horn-honking "Freedom Convoy." On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Parisian police ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.” But tickets were given to protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest.” (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant, File)

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:

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Paris police didn’t give fines for waving flag, saying ‘freedom’

CLAIM: Police in Paris ticketed protesters for carrying the French flag and saying the word “freedom.”

THE FACTS: Paris police ticketed protesters for offenses related to “participating in a prohibited protest,” not for carrying the French flag or saying the word “freedom,” as some people falsely claimed online. Following demonstrations in the French capital last weekend against COVID-19 mandates — inspired by rallies among truckers and others in Canada — one popular post asserted that Paris police were issuing tickets with fines of up to 135 euros ($153) for actions such as holding the flag and shouting “liberté.” “Tanks and tear-gas in France, with €135 fee for those holding a french flag and €90 to those who dare utter the word “freedom”, while protesting in Paris is now made illegal,” one tweet said. While some people on social media said they took the post to be a metaphor, others believed that people were actually being ticketed for these actions. But Paris police officials said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that tickets handed out to protesters were for participating in the rally despite a police order that prohibited involvement, a police spokesperson confirmed. Police gave out two tiers of driving tickets for fines of 135 and 90 euros ($102) for infractions that related to driving on a temporarily closed road and for attending a prohibited protest, according to information from the Paris police, checked against a ledger of fine amounts from the National Agency for the Automated Processing of Offenses by the AP. Police set up checkpoints into the French capital on key roads last weekend and said they successfully stopped at least 500 vehicles from heading to the banned protest, which, like in Canada, aimed to blockade roads and use vehicles to create a convoy. Still, a few dozen vehicles were able to slip into Paris and disrupt traffic. Authorities fired tear gas as they demanded that the demonstrators disperse, some of whom climbed onto their vehicles to create chaos, the AP reported. In Canada, similar demonstrations have unfolded over the past several weeks in and around the capital city of Ottawa among truckers and others angry over Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers Monday to quell the protests.

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— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta and Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.

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Posts distort research details to suggest secret vaccine campaign

CLAIM: Johns Hopkins University research shows that someone can “be vaccinated with a PCR swab test without knowing.”

THE FACTS: Researchers have developed tiny devices for potentially delivering drugs, but the technology hasn’t been tested or used with vaccines — or delivered through PCR swab tests. Social media posts baselessly linked the technology developed by Johns Hopkins researchers to a method of stealthily administering vaccines to unknowing recipients. “Johns Hopkins U Confirms You Can Be Vaccinated with a PCR Swab Test Without Knowing,” reads one blog post’s headline shared on Facebook and Instagram. But the university confirmed no such thing. The blog post points to a November 2020 article by the university announcing that researchers had “designed tiny, star-shaped microdevices that can latch onto intestinal mucosa and release drugs into the body.” The researchers published a study a month prior in the journal Science Advances on using such technology to deliver medicine in animals’ gastrointestinal tract. But the so-called “theragrippers” — which latch onto tissue and release medicine — have not been approved for use in humans, or tested for vaccine administration. “This nanotechnology has shown promise in a laboratory setting,” Johns Hopkins Medicine said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “However, it is still in its infancy and has not been approved for use in humans.” The statement said the university article “has been inaccurately used for disinformation purposes over the past few months,” noting that the devices are deployed through an endoscope and have “been neither tested nor used for vaccine delivery.” While the university’s article reporting on the research included a photo of the devices on a cotton swab, it did not say they are delivered that way. Instead, the cotton swab was used to convey the size of the devices, saying that “a theragripper is about the size of a speck of dust.” The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorized for use in the U.S. are administered via shots into one’s muscle.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.

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Image of girl with gun is an old meme, not recent Ukraine photo

CLAIM: A photo of a girl on a bus with a rifle shows “life in Ukraine, now.”

THE FACTS: The photo shows a Russian social media influencer holding a fake gun after a photo shoot in March 2020, not a recent image of life in Ukraine amid warnings of an imminent Russian invasion. The image was taken well before tensions began escalating between the two countries in recent weeks. A Twitter user shared the photo — which shows a girl scrolling through a smartphone on public transportation while holding a fake gun — last weekend, with a false caption suggesting it was just taken in Ukraine. In reality, the image was taken two years ago in Russia, according to Ekaterina Gladkikh, who lists her location on Instagram as Novosibirsk, a city in Siberia. Gladkikh told The Associated Press through direct messages on Instagram that she was returning from a photo shoot when the image was taken. “With this fake weapon, I managed to sit in a cafe and, as you can see, and take a ride in transport. None of the passers-by or the guards asked me any questions,” she said. “I live in Russia, not in Ukraine,” she added. In other photos posted on Instagram, she can be seen wearing the same beige hat from the widely shared photo. She also posted a story highlight video in March 2020 where she was wearing the same distinctive nail polish as the photo — one hand was painted with red nail polish, while the other was painted with blue polish. Reverse image search results show the photo has also appeared over time on Facebook and Twitter, with captions from 2020 and 2021 asserting it showed “a normal day in Russia.” One Facebook post from March 2020, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, captioned the photo: “Slav Girl in need of social distance in bus.” An April 2020 entry on a blog post headlined “Evolution of a Meme: Girl in Belarus on a Bus with AK,” discussed how the image had been repurposed multiple times by online meme pages. The photo has begun recirculating in recent days as tensions mount between Russia and Ukraine.

— Associated Press writers Arijeta Lajka in New York and Sophia Tulp contributed this report.

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PA school board didn’t vote to ban CNN in classrooms

CLAIM: A school board in suburban Pittsburgh voted to ban CNN from its classrooms.

THE FACTS: Teachers can still use their own discretion to show instructional videos from any source, including CNN, according to Norwin School District Superintendent Jeff Taylor. The Norwin School Board had voted on Monday to stop routinely playing television programs during homeroom classes at Norwin Middle School unless they are “student, teacher or administrator driven.” But this vote by the Pittsburgh-area school board is being misrepresented online. “School District Just Banned CNN From Classrooms,” read one widely-shared headline. “CNN got thrown out of Pennsylvania classrooms for being FAKE NEWS!” a Twitter user wrote. “Pennsylvania school removes CNN from classrooms, can choose patriotic videos instead,” read a misleading Fox News headline. While the article itself contained more nuance, users on Instagram posted screenshots of the headline alone that racked up tens of thousands of likes. Taylor explained in a phone interview that teachers in the district still have the option to play CNN or any other media source they deem has instructional value. Taylor said the claims stemmed from the middle school’s use of CNN 10, a 10-minute daily digital news program for students, publicly available on CNN’s website. The program had been shown to students during the homeroom period at Norwin Middle School since 2018. In a workshop meeting on Jan. 10, a school board member expressed concern over the program, saying it hadn’t been approved by the board and that he would like to remove it from the classroom. However, the motion that ultimately came to a board vote didn’t specifically address CNN 10. Instead, the board voted to stop showing TV programs during homeroom at Norwin Middle School to allow students to socialize and interact, unless the program was “either student, teacher or administrator driven.” A video of Monday’s meeting shows Taylor asked the board to clarify whether the phrase “teacher driven” meant teachers could still opt to show CNN 10 videos to their students. “I believe that’s the intent of the motion,” said board member Raymond Kocak. No board members expressed dissent, and the board approved the motion with a 5-4 vote. Taylor told the AP that “student, teacher or administrator driven” could be understood to mean hand-selected by those individuals. He clarified that the board’s decision covered homeroom classes for Norwin Middle School only, and did not affect curriculum for other classes or schools in the 5,300-student K-12 district. Taylor reiterated the importance of teaching current events in the classroom and pointed out that Pennsylvania state curriculum standards require it. Reached for comment, Fox News Digital Deputy Managing Editor Kelley Kramer said, “The Norwin School Board voted to end student programming from classrooms, which is accurately reflected in the FOX News Digital story.” A spokesperson for WarnerMedia, which owns CNN, declined to comment.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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Prosecutors in DC haven’t charged Trump’s children with crimes

CLAIM: Prosecutors in the District of Columbia recently filed criminal charges against Ivanka Trump and her brothers.

THE FACTS: District prosecutors have not filed any criminal charges against Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr., according to a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. The YouTube commentator who made the claim, Christo Aivalis, has also admitted it is false. Aivalis made the claim in a video titled, “Ivanka Trump CHARGED with MAJOR CRIME.” In the clip, Aivalis cites a news article discussing new developments in an ongoing lawsuit filed in January 2020 by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine against former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, the Trump International Hotel and the Trump Organization, alleging that the committee overpaid the hotel to enrich the Trump family. But the suit involving the inaugural committee is a civil matter, not a criminal case. None of Trump’s children are named as defendants, although the suit alleges that Ivanka Trump was involved. Reached by the Associated Press for comment, Aivalis admitted that the claim in his video is inaccurate. “I appear to have been mistaken in this regard, misunderstanding the nature of the efforts by DC officials,” Aivalis wrote in an email to the AP. The District of Columbia attorney general’s office has not filed any criminal charges against Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr., spokesperson Marrisa Geller confirmed to the AP. Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, wrote in an email to the AP that the claim that the three siblings have been criminally charged is “completely untrue.” The lawsuit filed by prosecutors in the District of Columbia alleges that the committee spent over $1 million to book a ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in the capital, and that one of the event’s planners raised concerns about the high price with Ivanka. Ivanka has said she instructed the hotel to charge a “fair market rate.” Racine’s office announced on Thursday that the case is going to trial, according to a news release.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.

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