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 real facts:
CLAIM: The virus outbreak spreading from China is nothing new; patents were created around it years ago.
THE FACTS: The patents being shared online are not related to the new respiratory virus that has sickened hundreds of people in China and caused concern around the world. The virus, which causes coughing, fever, breathing difficulty and pneumonia, was blamed for at least 26 deaths in China as of Friday. As the U.S. reported its first case of the virus Tuesday, social media users began spreading misinformation suggesting the U.S. government was aware of the virus for years, citing patents related to the virus as proof. Some posts said the virus was created in a lab. But the patents being shared are for previous viruses - one for avian infectious bronchitis virus, and another for SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS led to a global epidemic in 2003 that affected more than 8,000 people globally and killed more than 770. None of the deaths were in the U.S. Confusion surrounding the patents appears to stem from use of the word coronavirus when describing the current situation. Coronavirus is a broad name for a family of viruses that includes the common cold, but when found in bats, camels and other animals it has evolved into more severe illnesses, as was the case with the SARS epidemic. Social media users sharing what they believe to be patents for the new virus, a member of the coronavirus family, are in fact sharing separate patents for avian infectious bronchitis virus and SARS. In 2015, The Pirbright Institute filed for the patent related to the avian infectious bronchitis virus, which infects poultry, according to Justia, a legal information database. The patent also covers porcine delta-coronavirus that infects pigs. Both are in the coronavirus family. In a statement to The Associated Press, Pirbright confirmed that the patent is not for the new virus and that the research institute in Surrey, England, does not currently work with human coronaviruses. The patent being shared online covers the development of a weakened form of the coronavirus that could be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals, according to the institute. Some posts with the false claims were spread by anti-vaccination accounts on Facebook and Twitter, where they received hundreds of shares. Social media users were also sharing a link to the Google patent site which shows a coronavirus patent for SARS, not the new virus. A spokesman with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press that the patent is not related to the new coronavirus. “SARS was caused by a different coronavirus,” the spokesman said. “We are still in the process of learning a lot about this virus, including exactly what may be the natural host of this virus.”
CLAIM: Photo shows Martin Luther King Jr. alive in a hospital bed after he was shot in 1968. He died in the hospital after he was suffocated with a pillow.
THE FACTS: The photo shows King after he was stabbed in 1958. He survived the attack. Social media users began sharing false posts with the photo of King ahead of the holiday honoring the civil rights leader on Monday. The photo was taken by The Associated Press. According to the caption, it shows King recovering from surgery at New York Harlem Hospital, where surgeons removed a letter opener from his chest after he was stabbed by a mentally disturbed woman during a book signing in Harlem. It was taken 10 years before the civil rights leader was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King, 39, was hit in the neck by a bullet. He died less than an hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The false claim with the photo was shared thousands of times on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Conspiracies around King’s death have circulated for years.
CLAIM: Britain’s Prince Charles “snubbed” Vice President Mike Pence at the World Holocaust Forum.
THE FACTS: A video that shows Prince Charles shaking hands with world leaders at the Holocaust remembrance forum Thursday but passing the vice president, seemingly without acknowledging him, took off on social media Thursday with claims it showed a snub by the prince. Not so, according to their representatives. Pence’s office said that the two men had just met for several minutes before entering the hall where the video footage was shot. They shook hands earlier after Pence made a speech at the event. Photos taken by The Associated Press also capture the two men speaking during the ceremony. Prince Charles’ Clarence House office told Britain’s Press Association that there was no snub. “Shortly before the Yad Vashem memorial event began, the prince and vice president Pence and his wife had a warm and friendly chat, which is why they did not greet each other again in the room,” Britain’s Press Association quoted the spokeswoman as saying. In the video, Prince Charles shakes hands with the event’s organizer, Moshe Kantor. He then passes Pence to shake hands with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With little to clarify the situation, the video took off on social media. “I’m sure Prince Charles just snubbed Mike Pence,” said one Twitter user circulating the video. “Prince Charles was greeting leaders at the World Holocaust Forum when he blew past Mike Pence without acknowledging him or shaking his hand,” wrote another. Last month, a shortened clip circulated on social media claiming to show Princess Anne snubbing President Trump and the first lady. The short version appeared to show Queen Elizabeth glaring at Princess Anne for refusing to greet the Trumps. In the full version, Princess Anne had already greeted the Trumps and they had moved on to shake hands with the queen. After doing so she turned to Princess Anne to see who 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.”
CLAIM: Photo shows Lev Parnas at a birthday party for a young Eric Trump.
THE FACTS: The photo, which shows Eric Trump’s sixth birthday party, is from 1990. Parnas would have been 18 at the time. The man in the photo is visibly older. The photo showing the birthday party at the Plaza Hotel in New York circulated widely on Twitter and Facebook after Parnas gave interviews tying Trump to efforts to get Ukraine officials to launch an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. A number of posts point to a man standing next to Donald Trump in the photo, falsely claiming it is Parnas. “Here is a photo of Lev Parnas who @realdonald claims to have never met celebrating Eric’s birthday party 25 years ago. 25 YEARS #TRUMP HASN’T KNOWN THIS MAN!” claimed one false post that was retweeted over 1,700 times. Parnas, who was born in 1972, would have been 18 at the time of the party in 1990. Parnas told The New Yorker in October 2019 that although he “bumped” into Trump in New York throughout the years, he didn’t get to know Trump until the 2016 campaign. His lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, responded to the false reports on Jan. 20, tweeting: “In response to a number of inquiries, the picture below, apparently taken at @EricTrump’s 6th birthday party, is not Lev Parnas. #LevRemembers #LetLevSpeak.” Trump has denied knowing Parnas, a close associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, stating at a Jan. 16 press conference, “I don’t know who this man is.” But Parnas has been photographed with both the president and Vice President Mike Pence. Parnas is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump is in the midst of an impeachment trial, where he faces charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Parnas has been charged along with an associate, Igor Fruman, with making illegal campaign contributions in order to further their business interests and political goals, which included a campaign to get the U.S. to replace its ambassador to Ukraine. Both have pleaded not guilty. Ivana Trump shared the photo of Eric Trump’s birthday in October 2017 with ABC News. The Associated Press reached out to the publisher of Ivana Trump’s book “Raising Trump” in an effort to get more details about who was in the photo. They did not respond.
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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