ALI SWENSON, BEATRICE DUPUY, ARIJETA LAJKA and AMANDA SEITZ
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:
CLAIM: NASCAR, which recently banned the Confederate flag at its events, is now forcing its drivers to engage in Muslim prayer.
THE FACTS: NASCAR is not forcing drivers to engage in Muslim prayer. The bogus claim circulated with a photo that showed drivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway taking part in a longstanding tradition called “kissing the bricks.” A post featuring the photo racked up more than 140,000 views last weekend. “So NASCAR bans the confederate flag but FORCES all their drivers to do Muslim prayer?” it read. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Unacceptable!!” NASCAR has been the target of heavy praise and some disdain since it announced it would ban the Confederate flag from its events and properties, citing a need to provide a more “welcoming and inclusive” environment for its fans. But the auto racing association has not asked its athletes to participate in a Muslim prayer. The photo that went viral on social media actually shows drivers participating in a well-known NASCAR tradition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Yard of Bricks. It was started by driver Dale Jarrett in 1996. After Jarrett won the Brickyard 400 race, he and his crew walked out to the finish line, knelt and kissed the yard-long section of bricks on the track. Since then, winners of the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400 and other races have done the same. A reverse image search reveals the photo was taken in July 2016, when Kyle Busch won the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 race at the track.
CLAIM: Public service announcement warns of a white supremacist who has been shooting at black people at traffic lights. He drives a white truck and was last seen in Mesa, Arizona.
THE FACTS: State and local police officials in Arizona as well as organizations that track violence by white supremacists said they received no reports of a gunman targeting black motorists in Mesa, surrounding cities or elsewhere in the state last week. Nor did they release a public service announcement. On the evening of Tuesday, June 16, a post made to look like a public service announcement began circulating on Instagram and Facebook with claims of a violent white supremacist in Arizona. “PSA,” the post said, “If you’re in AZ there is a white supremacist shooting black people at stop lights. He drives a white truck.” The post added that the driver was last seen in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. By Wednesday afternoon, identical posts shared on Facebook had been viewed more than 100,000 times. Mesa Police Department officials said there was no evidence of any such activity in the city. “We have not had any calls regarding this or anything similar,” Detective Jason Flam, the department’s public information officer, said in an email to the AP. “Our intelligence unit is aware and looking into this fake PSA.” Flam said he was concerned that someone was “trying to create fear” with the unfounded post. He said he reached out to surrounding agencies in Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale and Tempe to investigate whether the posts were targeting multiple cities. Officers in those locations were unaware of any similar PSAs circulating in their jurisdictions, he said. The Arizona Department of Public Safety had not seen any incidents like the one described in the post, spokesman Raul Garcia told the AP. “This may be an example of disinformation designed to divide the community and cause fear,” he said in an email. “I have submitted the information to the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.” Both Marcela Taracena, a spokesperson for the ACLU in Arizona, and Rebecca Sturtevant, an associate media director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said they had not received any reports about a white supremacist shooting people in Arizona.
CLAIM: “Nancy Green (aka Aunt Jemima) was born into slavery. She was a magnificent cook. When she was ‘freed’ she rolled her talent into a cooking brand that General Mills bought & used her likeness. She died in 1923 as one of America’s first black millionaires.”
THE FACTS: There is no evidence that Green’s portrayal as Aunt Jemima made her into a millionaire. After Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it would retire the Aunt Jemima brand, known for its pancake mixes, posts online began circulating a false tale about the first woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima. “Aunt Jemima really do you know her history?” a Facebook post carrying the false claim stated, criticizing Quaker Oats decision to remove the character from the brand. The brand got its name from the minstrel song “Old Aunt Jemima,” which was composed by African American comedian and performer Billy Kersands. Chris Rutt, who created the pancake flour in 1889, was inspired by the song after hearing it during a minstrel performance and decided to give the name to his pancake flour. At the time, Aunt Jemima was seen as a “mammy” character, a racial stereotype of a slave happy to please her white masters. Rutt then sold his company to a larger milling company, R.T. Davis Milling Co., after failing to sell the flour. The milling company brought its mix to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and hired Nancy Green, a former slave who was working as a cook for a judge, to act as Aunt Jemima and sell the pancake flour. “This began a really long tradition of women being Aunt Jemima in public performance,” said Maurice M. Manring, author of “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima.” “Aunt Jemima became a national brand advertising nationally.” Manring added that the fame of the brand Aunt Jemima coincided with the explosion of advertising during World War I. The brand created a whole backstory for Aunt Jemima giving her a fictional family and creating made up events about her life. However, there is no evidence that Nancy Green shared in any of the profits from the company that sold the pancake mix, said Patricia A. Turner, professor of African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author. Green would continue her work as a housekeeper and died in 1923 after being hit by a car. In “Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America,” author Micki McElya wrote that very few people outside Green’s close friends and fellow parishioners at Olivet Baptist Church were aware of her role as Aunt Jemima. The brand would replace Green as Aunt Jemima with several different women, including Anna Harrington. In 2014, the descendants of Harrington sued Quaker Oats and its parent company, PepsiCo, saying Green and Harrington were exploited, and asking for a share of the company’s profits for having helped develop the brand. The decision by Quaker Oats to retire the Aunt Jemima name comes after weeks of protests demanding justice for George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by police in Minneapolis, and national outrage over the treatment of black Americans in the U.S. On Wednesday, Quaker Oats acknowledged to the AP that Aunt Jemima’s origins were based on a racial stereotype.
CLAIM: All California voters, if you are registered to vote as an independent, you will not be able to vote Republican come 2020. You must go online and change to Republican. California changed the rules and is hoping no one figures it out in time.
THE FACTS: Information contained in the post does not apply to the general election this fall. During California’s presidential primary election on March 3, independent voters, also known as “no party preference” voters, could vote in the Democratic presidential primary without changing their party affiliation, but not in the Republican primary. A post that circulated at the time of the primary is recirculating now to make it appear as though California’s independent voters will not be able to vote Republican in the general election unless they change their party affiliation to Republican. “California voters please read,” says a June 6 Facebook post, featuring a text post spreading the false information about independent voters. The post had more than 5,000 shares. The California Secretary of State’s office confirmed to the AP that independent voters were only barred from voting Republican in the presidential primary. During the general election in November they can vote for a candidate belonging to any party. The Democratic Party, American Independent Party and Libertarian Party all notified the Secretary of State’s office that they would be allowing California’s “no party preference voters” to request their party’s presidential ballot in the March 3 presidential primary election. More than 5.4 million Californians are listed as “no party preference” voters. In February, The Associated Press reported that “no party preference” voters in California who vote by mail could apply for a crossover ballot to vote Democrat or re-register as Republicans to vote in the Republican presidential primary. The GOP and national party leaders set the rules for the Republican presidential primary barring “no party preference” voters from participating.
CLAIM: Video shows Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage making disparaging remarks about the British people, including that they are racist and should be ashamed.
THE FACTS: Comments Farage made in a YouTube video were edited to misrepresent what he said. In the full video, Farage was actually criticizing the media for their coverage. On Thursday, a Twitter user posted an out-of-context clip that appeared to show Farage calling the British “awful,” “racist people.” A check of the video shows that Farage was describing the so-called “narrative” of British people that he said the media puts out. A Twitter user tweeted the misleading clip on June 18: “Wow, this can’t have been easy to admit. Well done @Nigel_Farage.” In the edited clip, Farage states: “We are awful, terrible, backward, knuckle-dragging racist people and we should be deeply ashamed.” The tweet with the out-of-context clip had over 8,000 retweets and nearly 1 million views. In the full version of the video, Farage said: “Whenever I turn on the BBC, it could be Channel 4, it could be Sky, it doesn’t matter, we are completely bombarded by a narrative that somehow we are awful, terrible, backward, knuckle-dragging racist people and we should be deeply ashamed… . That message, that narrative is coming out of mainstream media constantly.” On June 16, Farage uploaded the video to YouTube and then shared it on Twitter, saying, “This is why nobody trusts the mainstream media. Watch my latest YouTube upload.” Since the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the U.S. and to countries around the globe, including Britain. In June, Farage made comments comparing Black Lives Matter protesters to the Taliban for pulling down statues of slave traders. That same week, London-based radio station LBC announced that they will no longer broadcast Farage’s weekday evening show. “Nigel Farage’s contract with LBC is up very shortly and, following discussions with him, Nigel is stepping down from LBC with immediate effect,” the company stated on June 11.
CLAIM: Side-by-side photos show that CNN lightened the skin of the gunman who drove a car into a Seattle protest to make him appear white.
THE FACTS: CNN did not alter the skin tone of the gunman who drove into a George Floyd protest in Seattle on June 7 and shot one person. One of the photos used in the image was manipulated to make the gunman’s skin lighter, and a CNN logo was added. Posts circulating online are falsely suggesting that CNN got caught doctoring an image of a Seattle gunman to lighten his skin tone. The fabricated image shows side-by-side photos: one, taken by The Seattle Times, that shows the actual event and another that has been altered to lighten the gunman’s skin and add the CNN logo. The photo was shared across social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. “CNN lightened the photo of the man who drove into the protester last night in Seattle. They said he was white…ck the real photo. Ok…do you understand they are getting everyone riled up with LIES,” said an Instagram post with the image that had more than 7,000 likes. Video taken by The Seattle Times of the protest on Capitol Hill in Seattle shows the gunman driving into protesters, hitting a barricade and then exiting his car holding a pistol. In a June 8 story on the incident, CNN did not include photos or video of the gunman. CNN confirmed to the AP that the logo added to the photo is not in CNN’s style. Bridget Leininger, CNN senior director of communications, told the AP in an email that the photo appears doctored. The altered photo began circulating on social media shortly after the gunman plowed into the June 7 protest. On June 8, 4Chan users uploaded the side-by-side image with the CNN logo saying “white supremacist shoots protester.” “CNN is up to their no good tricks again,” the poster said. The manipulated photo was shared widely across pro-Trump and conservative Facebook groups and pages where it received more than 50,000 interactions.
CLAIM: Photo shows residents of Seattle’s occupied protest zone planting their new official flag, which has a pink unicorn and the acronym “CHAZ” on it, in an overflowing trash can.
THE FACTS: False. This photo, which racked up more than 18,000 views on Facebook and appeared on message boards such as 4chan, was manipulated to make viewers believe it was taken recently in Seattle. The flag was edited to show a pink unicorn design and the acronym “CHAZ.” In the original photo, first posted in 2017, the flag design is not visible. The photo shows black-clad individuals holding up the mast of a flag, planting it into a garbage can that’s overflowing with coffee cups and water bottles. It looks like a strange homage to a famous photo by AP’s Joe Rosenthal from the Battle of Iwo Jima, which has made it popular for use on memes with the phrase “Emo Jima.” It’s unclear where the original photo was taken. In Seattle, the part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood where protesters have gathered for more than a week was originally known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ. The area is now more commonly referred to as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP. Protest organizers have worked with the City of Seattle to reconfigure the area to continue gathering while promoting public safety, according to the mayor’s office. There is no evidence that protesters in CHOP have designated or raised any official flag.
CLAIM: Video shows protesters throwing projectiles at a police car in Brooklyn on Sunday evening, June 14.
THE FACTS: The New York Sergeants Benevolent Association, a police union representing sergeants in the New York Police Department, claims a video it posted was taken Sunday. Actually, a Twitter user first posted the video two weeks earlier, on May 30. The 36-second video, which racked up more than 503,000 views before early Monday, showed a trash can getting lobbed at a police car, breaking the glass on its rear window. It continued with people throwing various other objects at the car, until the driver reversed and drove away down an adjacent street. “NYC – Community Policing Dividend pays off big! This was tonight Flatbush Ave Brooklyn,” the Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted alongside the video on Sunday. But Twitter users quickly realized something was amiss. “This police union account is lying,” tweeted Noah Hurowitz, a local reporter covering the New York protests, later Sunday evening. “This video appears to have been shot on May 30, a block down Flatbush from the now-infamous video of two NYPD SUVs driving thru a crowd of protesters at St. Marks and Flatbush.” A search through old tweets reveals that the Twitter user @Nick74004212 did indeed tweet the same 36-second video on May 30, the night two police cruisers in Brooklyn drove into protesters, knocking several people to the ground. Robert Mladinich, a retired NYPD detective and spokesperson for the union, said he couldn’t confirm how the video got posted but that he was looking into it. He told The Associated Press the SBA would correct the record if the tweet was false, but the tweet was still up on Friday.
CLAIM: An Abraham Lincoln monument was recently torched in Chicago.
THE FACTS: A news article published in June falsely suggests that an Abraham Lincoln statue was burned in Chicago during protests that turned violent in the city. The incident happened in 2017, not recently. Facebook and Instagram users are sharing a news article that wrongly suggests a bust of former President Abraham Lincoln was torched last week in Chicago. Time has not always been kind to the bust since it was first erected on Aug. 31, 1926. it was spray painted, stolen, had its nose knocked off and then, finally, was set on fire in August 2017 while perched on a street corner in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. But reports that it was torched during recent protests in Chicago are false. The bust of Lincoln is doing fine in its new location at the Chicago Public Library’s West Englewood branch, where it was relocated in 2018 after being restored, Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez told the AP on Monday. “Abraham Lincoln is well preserved in my community,” Lopez said. “It’s fine and perfect in its location.” Lopez posted on Facebook about the statue being burned in August 2017, and the false reports claiming that Lincoln was burned — again — link to that old post. The misleading article about the Lincoln statue was written and published days after protests, some of which turned violent and resulted in damaged property in Chicago, over the death of George Floyd. “An Absolute Disgraceful Act: Abraham Lincoln Monument Torched in Chicago,” the headline of the article says. The article was also shared on Instagram. “Abraham Lincoln, aka The Great Emancipator, signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, freeing the slaves as the United States descended into Civil War. The left doesn’t care about that after all,” the Instagram post says.
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.
ALI SWENSON, BEATRICE DUPUY, ARIJETA LAJKA and AMANDA SEITZ