Masks, taxes and Kanye: A look at the not-real news of the week

National News

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden pose for a photo with dancers as they visit Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami on Monday. Photos circulating online incorrectly asserted Biden was taking a knee during the national anthem during this campaign event. His campaign confirmed he was kneeling to pose for a picture, and the anthem was not played at the event.. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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:

Photo of Democratic senators huddling without masks is from 2018, not 2020

CLAIM: Photo shows Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island flouting social distancing measures by huddling without face masks during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

THE FACTS: In fact, this Associated Press photo dates back to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018, long before the coronavirus pandemic began. As Barrett began her third day of Senate confirmation hearings on Wednesday, a photo of three Democratic senators was circulating online along with accusations that the senators flouted social distancing measures. The photo shows Booker, Blumenthal and Whitehouse huddling close together at Blumenthal’s desk, without any face masks. “Is this an Amy Coney Barrett SCOTUS nominee Senate Hearing?” read one tweet posted on Tuesday. “Or a political teams coaches strategy huddle on how to beat what they perceive to be an opponent?” Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, also shared the photo on his Twitter account on Wednesday, pointing out the absence of masks.

He later clarified the photo was taken in 2018.

A reverse-image search proves this photo was not taken at Barrett’s confirmation hearings. Instead, it’s an AP photo from Sept. 4, 2018, when senators in the Judiciary Committee were vetting Kavanaugh. Booker, Blumenthal and Whitehouse have all advocated for wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to advise that people wear face coverings in public settings and when social distancing is not possible.


No evidence Trump commented on Amy Coney Barrett’s appearance

CLAIM: When reporters asked President Donald Trump why he nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he said Barrett is “much better looking” than other women who have appeared on the court and “if people are more attractive, they get a fantastic amount of respect.”

THE FACTS: There is no evidence Trump made these comments. His public remarks about Barrett since her nomination have centered on her qualifications for the court.

As Barrett went through her second day of Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday, a post circulating on social media claimed to show Trump telling reporters he selected her based on appearance. “REPORTERS: Mr. President? Can you tell us your biggest reason for the choice of Amy Barrett?” read the post, which racked up more than 1,500 shares on Facebook. It continued, “TRUMP: “Well, you know you have to look at what we have had in the court. I think, I think it’s important that they have a good image, they need a terrific image, so people will see they can, believe me. I’m not saying any names, but you look at those people, and they are not that nice, not nice to look at, not at all. I think Amy is much, much better looking than the women we have had. I think people know this, they know. If people are more attractive, they get a fantastic amount of respect, and we need to have that, we need that now. That I can tell you.”

An internet search found no match for the quote in Trump’s public statements or official remarks. A search of his Twitter archive, including deleted tweets, also revealed no mention of Barrett’s physical appearance. Trump’s remarks when he announced his nomination of Barrett on Sept. 26 also did not include anything about her looks. Instead, he mentioned her academic background, her work for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, her family, her accolades as a professor and her endorsements from others.


Quote about Supreme Court nominee attributed to Maine senator is fabricated

CLAIM: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she was “not certain” Judge Amy Coney Barrett was the right person to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

THE FACTS: The quote is fabricated, a spokeswoman for Collins said. In addition, internet searches revealed no such comment by the Republican senator. Collins has said she would vote against Barrett’s appointment, but her opposition stems from the timing of the vote, which is scheduled before Election Day, not because she opposes the nominee.

According to reporting by The Associated Press, Collins has explained her opposition citing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2016 decision to block President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a court vacancy that occurred nine months before the election. Ginsburg died 47 days before the 2020 presidential election.

On Monday, a fabricated quote circulated on social media: “BREAKING: Senator Susan Collins has doubts. “At this time I’m not certain that Judge Amy Cony Barrett is the right person to replace Justice Ginsburg. I hope that my colleagues in the Judiciary Committee will be able to alleviate my doubts.” Barrett’s name was misspelled in the false quote.

Multiple Twitter users reposted the false quote. Annie Clark, communications director for Collins, addressed the issue on Twitter. “Incredible. 17,000 likes & 6,000 retweets for this fake quote. Thanks to all who asked about it’s authenticity before running with it. This is the second time this account has attributed a false quote to Senator Collins,” Clark tweeted on Monday. The Senate, led by Trump’s Republican allies, is pushing Barrett’s nomination to a quick vote before Election Day, Nov. 3, and ahead of the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court is to hear a week after the election.


False claims about Biden’s tax plan spread online

CLAIM: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan for capital gains tax means if you sell your home you will be taxed 40% of the profit.

THE FACTS: Social media users have been sharing misinformation about Biden’s tax policy. The latest false claim states: “Biden’s capital gains tax means that when you sell your home you’ll owe taxes of 40% of your profit! Let that sink in!” Tax experts familiar with Biden’s tax proposal say the post is inaccurate for two reasons.

For one, Biden’s proposal to raise the maximum capital gains tax rate to 39.6% would only apply to people with incomes of over $1 million a year. “There is no increase in the capital gains rate for taxpayers with incomes below $1 million,” said Eric Toder, an institute fellow and co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

The claim is also false because Biden has not proposed making changes to existing tax law, which makes the first $250,000 in profit you earn from selling your primary residence exempt from capital gains tax. The exemption goes up to $500,000 in profit for married couples. “For most people when they sell their homes — unless they are turning a profit of more than $500,000 for a married couple, which is a lot — you don’t pay any tax on your gains,” said Kathleen DeLaney Thomas, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Thomas said due to that rule, a change in the capital gains tax rate “is completely irrelevant” to profits from a home sale. Under Biden’s proposal, even someone who earned more than $1 million a year would not be taxed 39.6% on the profit of their home. That person would only be taxed on any profit from the sale beyond $250,000 if they are single, or $500,000 if they are married.


Quote about COVID-19 and vaccines falsely attributed to Biden

CLAIM: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said “COVID-19 will increase within the next few months. The scientists agree. And when I take the White House I will lock down our nation until we have our vaccine ready and everyone is vaccinated.”

THE FACTS: There is no evidence Biden made this comment. Social media users shared the fabricated quote to claim that the former vice president would institute a lockdown to force vaccinations once elected president. The posts surfaced as the president has continued to suggest that Biden would shut down the entire country if elected. An online search of public comments and tweets showed that Biden made no such remark.

Biden has said that if elected he would rely on the expertise of medical professionals to make decisions about COVID-19. In an August interview, ABC News anchor David Muir asked Biden if he would be prepared to shut down the country again. Biden said he would shut down the country if that is what the scientists said. “I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives,” Biden said.

In a September campaign stop in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden reaffirmed that he would rely on health experts to make decisions about the coronavirus. He did not make any reference to enforcing vaccines through lockdowns. During the event, Biden said once he took office he would begin by implementing an effective distribution plan for the vaccine based on direction from the experts. He said his plan would include a timetable for when people would receive the vaccine and who would receive the vaccine first as well as mechanisms to store the vaccines at their proper temperatures.

“If a vaccine is ready to go, it should be totally transparent, the basis upon which that decision was made,” he said. “What scientists looked at it within the government and outside the government, and said, “This is a useful, safe vaccine to take.”’ The post with the fabricated quote includes a photo from The Associated Press showing Biden wearing a mask after finishing up his speech at the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 951 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Oct. 2.


Kanye West leads Trump and Biden in Kentucky voting results

CLAIM: Election results in Kentucky show rapper and independent presidential candidate Kanye West ahead of President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the presidential race.

THE FACTS: West tweeted bogus election results claiming early polling showed he was ahead of Trump and Biden in Kentucky. The numbers he shared were not real. They were mock election data that The Associated Press provides to customers as part of routine testing ahead of elections. Testing data is randomly generated and not based on any predetermined scenarios. West on Tuesday evening tweeted a screenshot of the fictional numbers from Kentucky NBC affiliate LEX 18 News, which showed West had 40,000 votes in Kentucky and was ahead of Trump and Biden.

The testing data showed that West was in third place behind the Libertarian Party’s Jo Jorgensen and Brock Pierce, who is running as an independent candidate.

West’s false tweet had over 11,000 retweets. “GET THE WEST WING READY !!! … this is how I felt when I saw that Kentucky pole result,” West tweeted, with a video of him showing off the false results on his phone. Twitter flagged his tweet as “manipulated media.” LEX 18 News in Kentucky clarified on Twitter that the results were not real numbers, and were part of a test. “Someone discovered a cached web link that we used during June’s primary election to post Associated Press election results.

The old link was still populating current AP data and showed test results, which is part of the preparation the AP does in advance of elections,” the tweet stated. “The results shown were not valid. They were simply part of a test. We regret the discovery of the cached web link and have removed the data from that page. We apologize for any confusion.” West, who once backed Trump, broke with the president and launched his own presidential bid as an independent. He successfully made his way onto the ballot in Kentucky although he missed filing deadlines in several other states, including in battlegrounds such as Michigan and Florida.


Biden took a knee during the national anthem

CLAIM: Photo shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden taking a knee during the national anthem.

THE FACTS: Biden was kneeling to pose for a picture. A photo circulating on Facebook this week showed Biden in a suit and tie kneeling next to his wife, Jill Biden, who was standing in front of a group of women in vibrant dresses. Facebook users expressed disgust at Biden’s position, charging him with disrespecting the anthem and the country.

However, Biden was kneeling to pose for a photo with dancers during an event at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, according to captions of AP photos taken at the scene. Biden’s campaign confirmed that context, telling the AP in an email, “he took a knee for the photo with the dancers who greeted him in Little Haiti.” The candidate couldn’t have kneeled for the national anthem that day in Little Haiti even if he wanted to — as a campaign spokeswoman explained to the AP, the song wasn’t played at the event.


No evidence flyer linked to antifa groups

CLAIM: An antifa flyer is circulating, calling on people to “disguise” themselves as “Patriot Trump supporters” during riots on Nov. 4.

THE FACTS: A meme of the flyer has been circulating online since at least 2017. There’s no evidence that the meme is connected to antifa groups. The fabricated flyer states: “Antifa comrades! On Nov. 4, don’t forget to disguise yourselves as patriots/Trump supporters: wear MAGA hats, USA flags, 3%er insignias, a convincing police uniform is even better! This way police and patriots responding to us won’t know who their enemies are and onlookers and the media will think there are Trump supporters rioting so it’s hard to turn popular opinion against us!” In 2017, there was a hoax that antifa would launch a “civil war” to overthrow the Trump administration on Nov. 4. Multiple memes and fabricated images circulated online, including this flyer. Antifa is not a single organization but rather an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.

There is no hierarchical structure to antifa or universal set of tactics that makes its presence immediately recognizable, though members tend to espouse revolutionary and anti-authoritarian views, said Mark Bray, a historian at Rutgers University and author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” This week, similar false claims surfaced.

One tweet posted on Oct. 11 said: “BREAKING REPORT: A flyer circulating the internet indicates ANTIFA members are recruiting others to DISGUISE THEMSELVES as ‘Patriot Trump Supporters’ on November 4th… to cause confusion during RIOTS…STAY VIGILANT…” The false post had over 10,000 retweets. “In general terms, in right-wing circles, I haven’t seen any concerted efforts to try to understand what antifa or anti-facism are. The focus has been exclusively on using the specter of antifa as the boogeyman,” Bray said.

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