NOT REAL NEWS: False stories from this week about Biden, vaccines, missing children and more

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Saturday, September 5, 2020
Race for a COVID-19 vaccine
ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. Darien Sutton on the race for a "safe" COVID-19 vaccine.

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:

Biden in Kenosha

Inside a quiet Kenosha church, presidential candidate Joe Biden heard the struggles of the community.

Claim: A Black woman speaking at a community event with Joe Biden in Kenosha, Wisconsin, exposed the Democratic presidential candidate by saying she would not "go off" a paper she was provided by his campaign.

The facts: Porsche Bennett, the woman speaking, was given the paper to read by her organization, not by Biden's campaign. On Thursday when Biden visited Kenosha social media users circulated a video clip of Bennett speaking at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha. In the video, Bennett appears to go off script during a question and answer period, saying: "I'm just going to be honest, Mr. Biden, I was told to go off this paper, but I can't. We need the truth and I am a part of the truth." Bennett told reporters after speaking that she was given the paper by Black Lives Activists Kenosha (BLAK), where she is an organizer. Biden's campaign told the AP that when Bennett said she was going off script, she was referring to prewritten questions given to her by her organization. The campaign said it did not provide any scripts or written material for participants to read. The Trump War Room, an official Twitter account for the president's campaign, tweeted the video of Bennett on Thursday, stating: "Woman at Biden event in Kenosha says she was given a "paper" telling her what to say." The tweet was retweeted thousands of times and the clip of Bennett making the comment was widely shared across Facebook and Twitter . "AMERICA EXPOSES BIDEN @JoeBiden & his Dem handlers give out questions to constituents to ask ONLY what THEY wrote down. Porsche Bennett was not having that!," said one tweet. Biden visited Kenosha in response to protests and unrest that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23 . At the event, Bennett said her community was angry over the shooting of Blake, and demanded change.

- Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy reported this item from New York.

Biden sleeping on air?

A DHS report obtained exclusively by ABC News raises questions about how the Trump administration is dealing with possible Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election.

Claim: Video shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden sleeping when he is supposed to be on air for a live morning television interview.

The facts: The video was fabricated using a television news clip from 2011. In the original, an anchor with KBAK-TV in Bakersfield, California, attempted to interview the singer Harry Belafonte remotely, but when they cut to him his eyes were closed and he did not respond. After repeated attempts to reach him, the anchor laughed and said, "He's meditating, He's taking a little nap." In the 30-second altered video, Belafonte is replaced with video that appears to show Biden with his eyes closed and snoring sounds are added. A chyron was added to the bottom of the screen to read "THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ELECTION." The Biden clip was pulled from an April 2020 town hall in which Biden turns his gaze downward for about 15 seconds as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the effects of COVID-19 on women. He then lifted his gaze. There were no snoring sounds. The altered video racked up thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A social media user identified as Damon Imani confirmed to The Associated Press that he created the altered video. The video posted on his YouTube account on Saturday amassed more than 121,000 views before it was taken down in response to a report by the copyright owner. It was shared by public figures including Trump communications adviser Dan Scavino, whose Sunday tweet was labeled "manipulated media" by the social media site. Belafonte's publicist said at the time the performer was meditating before the interview and his earpiece malfunctioned.

- Associated Press writer Ali Swenson reported this item from Seattle.

COVID-19 vaccines

Claim: The new vaccine for COVID-19 will be the first of its kind ever. It will be an "MRna vaccine" which will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.

The facts: Experts say mRNA vaccines do not alter your DNA. As researchers work to test vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19, social media posts are sharing misinformation to sow doubt even before they become available to the public. The posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram suggest that a new coronavirus mRNA vaccine will genetically modify humans. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates that began phase 3 testing in July both use mRNA. Such vaccines are a new and unproven technology that experts say offer an easier and faster way to produce vaccines compared to traditional methods. They work by introducing a messenger RNA molecule into your body, which causes cells to produce a protein that resembles one of the viral proteins that make up SARS-CoV-2, said Brent R. Stockwell, a Columbia University biology and chemistry professor. "Your immune cells then recognize this viral protein and generate an immune response against it, primarily by generating antibodies that recognize the viral protein," he said in an email. While there are other concerns with mRNA vaccines, such as the degree and length of protection and possible side effects, Stockwell said, modifying DNA is not one of them. Dr. Dan Culver, a lung specialist at Cleveland Clinic, agreed it's not possible for an mRNA vaccine to alter your DNA. "This cannot change your genetic makeup," he said. "The time that this RNA survives in the cells is relatively brief in the span of hours. What you are really doing is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours."

- Beatrice Dupuy

Missing children found

Here's a list of warning signs officials say could be indicators of human trafficking.

Claim: Law enforcement found 39 missing children in a double-wide trailer in Georgia.

The facts: A law enforcement operation in August did locate 39 children in Georgia over a two week period, but the children were not all found in one trailer or in a single location. On August 27, the U.S, Marshals Service announced the completion of a two-week operation that located 39 children in Macon, Georgia, and the greater Atlanta area. During "Operation Not Forgotten," the U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement agencies rescued 26 children and arrested nine people. Law enforcement also located an additional 13 children who had previously been reported missing, and confirmed the children were with the proper custodian. Posts on social media distorted some facts of the operation. "How is finding 39 missing children in a double wide trailer in Georgia NOT the biggest news story in America?" reads a post that has been widely shared and copied on Facebook. But the children were not all found in a double-wide trailer or even in a single location or on a single date, said Dave Oney, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service. "The children were found in a variety places - houses, hotel rooms," Oney told the AP. Other children were located in apartments and "even on the streets," according to Darby Kirby, chief inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit. Neither Oney or Darby were able to confirm if any of the children had been located in a trailer. Oney said some of the children had been missing for a few days while others had been missing for a couple of years. "Fifteen of the children were identified as victims of trafficking. The other children were victims of parental kidnappings, children who absconded from the Division of Family and Children Services, Department of Juvenile Justice custody, and were believed to be in danger or critically missing," reads a statement Oney provided to the AP. While social media posts suggest the story about the children found in the trailer is not getting enough attention, that is because the claim about the trailer is false. Operation Not Forgotten was covered by many media outlets, including The Associated Press, CNN, CBS and others.

- Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block reported this item from Phoenix.

Pedophilia in California

Claim: California just passed SB 145, a bill that would end felonies for child rape and legalize pedophilia in the state.

The facts: SB 145, which has passed the California legislature and awaits the governor's signature, would not legalize pedophilia. It would only give judges expanded discretion to determine whether an adult must register as a sex offender. Under current law, judges can make that decision in cases of voluntary, but illegal, vaginal sex with a minor age 14 to 17 and an adult within 10 years of the minor's age. SB 145 would expand that law to include voluntary oral and anal sex within the same age parameters. The bill would not apply to any minor under the age of 14, nor would it apply to any age gap larger than 10 years. It also would not apply if either party claims the sex was involuntary. Advocates say the bill makes existing California law more inclusive for the LGBTQ community. The bill has been widely condemned by social media users falsely claiming it would legalize pedophilia. "PEDOPHILIA is now LEGAL in CALIFORNIA," read a Facebook post viewed more than 8 million times. "Now a 21 year old can have sex with an 11 year old, and not be listed on the sex registry as a sex offender. This is unbelievable California!" Posts making such claims fundamentally misrepresent what SB 145 does, according to the bill's authors and outside experts. Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, called the claims "hogwash" in an interview with The Associated Press. "The accusation that it somehow allows pedophilia is simply not true," Levinson said. Also, contrary to false posts on social media, the bill would not apply when a minor is under the age of 14, when the age gap is larger than 10 years, or when either party says the sex was not consensual. If passed, the bill would "bring much-needed parity" to California sex offender registration law, according to a statement from Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who drafted the bill. "This bill allows judges and prosecutors to evaluate cases involving consensual sex acts between young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, on an individual basis," the statement said. The bill did face opposition in the legislature by some lawmakers, including Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who said she thought the 10-year age gap was too broad. The bill has passed both houses of the California legislature and awaits a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

DC monuments

Claim: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed using her power to remove the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Protesters on June 10 down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the former capital of the Confederacy, adding it to the list of Old South monuments removed or damaged around the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd's death.

The facts: Bowser did not call for the removal of the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. The monuments are on federal land outside the mayor's jurisdiction. Social media posts making the claim misrepresented a report released Tuesday by the District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions task force. The task force was formed by Bowser over the summer in response to nationwide protests over police brutality. The task force recommended renaming, relocating and adding context to monuments, schools, parks and buildings. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial were named in the report. The Lincoln Memorial was not mentioned, as posts suggested. The mayor has not called for the changes or endorsed them, according to a spokesperson in her office. "Mayor Bowser has asked the DC FACES Working Group to clarify and refine their recommendations to focus on local DC, so no one attempts to confuse the Working Group's focus on contextualizing not removing important monuments and memorials in DC," LaToya Foster, director of communications for the mayor, said in an email. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that many of the monuments and statues in the nation's capital are on federal land, which would be outside the local government's control. The false posts online received hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The posts suggested that the mayor was attempting to erase or rewrite history for the city. Following the backlash, a page reviewing statues and memorials was removed from the report. The White House responded to the task force's report saying that the president would not allow the recommendations to move forward. "As long as President Trump is in the White House, the mayor's irresponsible recommendations will go absolutely nowhere, and as the mayor of our Nation's capital city - a city that belongs to the American people - she ought to be ashamed for even suggesting them for consideration," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement Tuesday. The mayor's office told the AP that it was interesting that the White House was commenting on "an intragovernmental report about how to recognize all sides of our history."

- Beatrice Dupuy/ Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report