Editor’s note: This is a roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these stories is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out; here are the real facts:
CLAIM: Video shows British Labour Party’s Brexit minister stumped on question about EU deal.
THE FACTS: The false claim that Labour Party spokesman Keir Starmer was too stumped to answer the question was based on intentionally altered video footage that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party posted on social media on Nov. 5. In the video, the host of “Good Morning Britain,” Piers Morgan, asks Starmer, “Why would the EU give you a good deal if they know you’re going to actively campaign against it?” Starmer’s response to this was deliberately edited at that point to show him staring blankly and blinking as though he didn’t have an answer, with “Labour has no plan for Brexit” plastered on the screen in bright red letters. In the actual interview, Starmer answered Morgan’s question immediately, saying, “Well, Piers, I have been talking to the EU, to political leaders across the EU, to 27 countries, for three years. And I know very well what the parameters are of any deal that they would do with a Labour government.” The full interview was published to YouTube on Nov. 5. The Conservatives posted the altered version of the video to Twitter and their official Facebook page. On Facebook alone, the misleading post had more than 300,000 views and 8,000 shares as of Nov. 8. “WATCH: Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit Minister can’t or won’t answer a simple question about Labour’s position on Brexit,” the post is captioned. The Conservatives were criticized for posting the doctored video. In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, Conservative Party chair James Cleverly said the video was meant to be “satirical.” ‘’What we also did, and this is not unique to us, is we did a lighthearted satirical video, obviously so with a comedy soundtrack, highlighting the Labour Party’s chaotic position on Brexit,” he said. When he was asked whether his party had “posted a lie” online, he responded: “I disagree with your assessment of it.” The Conservative Party’s press office also linked to the full YouTube video of the interview in a Nov. 5 tweet that said, “Believe it or not, this car crash interview did really take place.” Morgan offered his assessment in a tweet of his own: “You doctored the end of the clip you originally put out, to make it look like @Keir_Starmer had no answer to my question. In fact he answered immediately. You could have had plenty of fun with that interview anyway — why fake it?”
CLAIM: Photos of White House staff show the whistleblower who led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
THE FACTS: The falsely captioned photos circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit this week as social media users tried to unmask the whistleblower, possibly inspired by posts and stories shared by conservative outlets and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., that claimed to reveal the person’s identity. The posts sharing the photos said the whistleblower could be seen in the shots. “Here’s a picture of the ‘whistleblower’ see the ‘nerd’ in the picture...his face is circled,” said one post containing one of the photos. R. David Edelman, who worked in the Obama White House, took to Twitter on Thursday to debunk the claim. He said he is correctly identified in the photos, but that he left his job in 2017 and is not the whistleblower. “Sorry to disappoint, y’all,” he tweeted. One of the most widely circulated such photos was taken by Susan Walsh for The Associated Press on Nov. 9, 2016. It shows Edelman alongside White House staff, including former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and National Security adviser Susan Rice, as they listen to President Barack Obama address Trump’s election victory in the White House Rose Garden. At the time, Edelman was serving under Obama as the special assistant to the president on economic and tech policy. Edelman told the AP he was first alerted by a friend in Europe that photos were being circulated with him circled as the supposed whistleblower. He then saw the photos making the rounds on Twitter and Reddit, from fringe accounts to those of right-wing personalities with large followings. “I did some research and discovered it was beginning to get traction despite not having any grounding in reality,” he said. Edelman left his position at the White House in 2017 before the transition to Trump’s administration. He has since been working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he manages a research group on artificial intelligence and public policy research. He said he has received threats because of the false claims online, and has reached out to Twitter about the posts.
CLAIM: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden forgot where the camera was and instead spoke to a screen in front of him during an event in Iowa.
THE FACTS: That description of what Biden did at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration, on Nov. 1, is inaccurate. After the event, social media users began circulating a C-Span clip which appeared to show Biden, 76, talking to a screen instead of an audience or the camera. Some posters used the footage to joke about his age. In actuality, Biden, who was standing on an elevated stage, was speaking to an audience surrounding him at tables below — out of view from the camera angle. Reporters and a photographer covering the event for the AP confirmed that Biden was speaking to the audience. The large screen that Biden appears to be looking toward was at the far side of the room, past the audience. During his speech, Biden said he would overhaul health care and called for party unity. In the clip circulating with the false claim, Biden can be heard saying, “I learned something early on from my family, my mom and dad, they said, Joey, nobody is better than you but everyone is your equal. Everyone is your equal.” The video then cuts off. Biden has received criticism for gaffes he has made during campaign events, including mixing up dates.
CLAIM: Videos show cyclone hitting Karachi, Pakistan.
THE FACTS: The videos of Cyclone Kyarr were shot in Oman, hundreds of miles from Karachi. One Twitter user falsely claimed that the video of a wave flooding a road that he shared on Oct. 28 showed “#Karachi embracing the might of cyclone #Kyarr.” In fact, the video was shot in Al Batinah in Oman. The Times of Oman tweeted the same video of the wave minutes earlier stating that it was filmed in Saham, a coastal town in the Al Batinah region. A geolocation search on Google Earth confirmed that the footage matched Saham’s waterfront. Another video capturing the cyclone’s impact in Muttra, Oman, was tweeted on Oct. 31 with a false caption locating the footage in Karachi. In the tweet, the user describes the video as “Karachi see view,” with “sea” apparently misspelled. The video shows a massive wave crashing over a waterfront promenade in the evening, flooding the street and knocking people down. Haitham Al-Sinani had first published that video on Snapchat, identifying the location as Muttrah, a district in Muscat, Oman. Al-Sinani confirmed to the AP in a phone call that he filmed the video in Muttrah on Oct. 29. The promenade captured in the video also matches Muttrah’s waterfront, specifically the golden domes along the promenade. Both of the videos were also shared on Facebook with false captions. Cyclone Kyarr formed in the Arabian Sea last week hitting parts of Oman, according to the India Meteorological Department. The storm weakened into a depression on Nov. 1. Multiple outlets reported that Cyclone Kyarr was not a direct threat to Karachi.
CLAIM: Obama robocall supporting Democratic candidate Jim Hood for Mississippi governor is fake.
THE FACTS: Former President Barack Obama did, in fact, record a call urging Mississippi residents to vote for Hood, the state attorney general, in the Nov. 5 election, Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill confirmed in an email to The Associated Press. The false claims circulating on Twitter suggested that the Obama robocalls for Hood were fake and an “impersonation.” Multiple users on Twitter questioned the legitimacy of the call, while some accused Hood’s opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, of planting a phony Obama call for Hood. One Twitter user wrote: “All sorts of 11th hour political games going on in MS. First a VERY questionable mass email sent to teacher school emails. Then a VERY BAD impersonation of Obama on a robo-call paraded around as real. This stuff is getting ridiculous. Vote these fools out please!” In the call, Obama told voters to support Hood, stating that the Democratic nominee would expand Medicaid, keep rural hospitals open, raise teacher pay and increase diversity. “Paid for by friends of Jim Hood,” plays at the end. Hood distanced himself from many national and statewide Democratic figures through his campaign. Reeves, who ended up winning the election, attempted to link Hood to mainstream Democrats unpopular with Mississippi voters. A Twitter user doubting the authenticity of the call posted on Nov. 4, “Seems rather peculiar that on the eve of election day, a campaign phone call surfaced allegedly of President Obama endorsing Jim Hood.” The user said in a follow-up tweet, “We’ve already seen deepfake videos and heard deepfake audio recordings of all kinds in the political world last and this year. Until I see a confirmation from President Obama or Jim Hood, I do not believe it is real.” The Hood and Reeves campaigns did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.