NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week

President Barack Obama meets with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011 on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. A manipulated version of a photo similar to this circulating online incorrectly depicts Obama with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The manipulated image has circulated on social media and blogs since at least 2013.

Associated Press

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: Photo shows Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

THE FACTS: The image was manipulated to replace the former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, with Rouhani. The original photo was taken in 2011. Arizona congressman Paul Gosar shared the manipulated image with Rouhani from his personal Twitter account on Jan. 6. “The world is a better place without these guys in power,” Gosar said in the tweet, which was shared more than 5,000 times.

Other Twitter users immediately highlighted the tweet as false. After being criticized for posting the false photo, Gosar tweeted: “No one said this wasn’t photoshopped. No one said the president of Iran was dead. No one said Obama met with Rouhani in person.”

The manipulated image has circulated on social media and blogs since at least 2013. Last week the manipulated image made rounds on Facebook with false claims, including that Obama gave billions of dollars to Iran.

The original photo shows a smiling Obama shaking hands with India’s prime minister in front of an Indian and two American flags. It was taken at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bali. The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse published nearly identical photos of the handshake between Obama and Singh. Obama and Rouhani never met in person.

Tensions have escalated between Iran and the U.S. since President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. On Sunday, Iran announced it will no longer abide by the limits outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Associated Press reached out to Gosar for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

In November, the congressman made headlines for supporting Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories doubting that the wealthy sex offender committed suicide. Gosar posted 23 tweets, where the first letter of each tweet spelled out “Epstein didn’t kill himself.” A New York medical examiner ruled that Epstein’s death in jail was suicide. Since then conspiracy theories have flourished.

CLAIM: Video shows U.S. shooting down missiles launched by Iran.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The footage is computer-generated.

THE FACTS: A number of Twitter users falsely shared computer-generated imagery claiming it showed the U.S. take down of Iranian missiles this week.

“All missiles launched by Iran were shot down. The Artillery System with electronic vision fires 50 shots per second. The US has the most powerful army in the world and the best president in the world @realDonaldTrump,” a Twitter user stated with the video shared on Jan. 9. The footage shows a missile being shot down.

It’s one of several misrepresented videos purporting to show missiles being fired on two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops that circulated on social media after Iraq’s attack on Wednesday. The attack came in response to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani earlier this month in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump. There were no reports that the U.S. shot down any of the missiles fired by Iran.

The computer-generated imagery in the tweet from Jan. 9 can be found on YouTube since at least June 2019. The YouTube user who posted the clip on his channel along with several other clips said it was from the video game Arma 3 by Bohemia Interactive. The company confirmed to the AP that the footage is from the game series.

“We believe this specific video was made by one of our players a long time ago, and the same footage has been misused various times for spreading fake news in the past, said Alex Sutton, a representative for Bohemia Interactive.

He said the company thinks the footage was from the Arma 2 version of the game.

“Of course, we are unhappy about footage from our games being used to spread false news in any capacity,” he said. “Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, there’s no way we can prevent footage from our games being used this way – all we can do is clarify and confirm the footage’s actual origin, and implore people to please check such things before aiding in the spread of misinformation and fabricated reality.”

Social media users have misrepresented the video before. It circulated in October falsely identified as showing Israeli missiles hitting Hezbollah missiles.

CLAIM: Golden retriever saved baby koala from a wildfire in Australia.

THE FACTS: Photos circulating on social media of a koala snuggled on the back of a golden retriever were not taken after the dog rescued the marsupial from the unprecedented wildfires in Australia, as many posts claimed.

Kerry McKinnon, the dog’s owner, told The Associated Press the photos were taken in September 2018 when a baby koala wanting to escape cold temperatures climbed onto the dog, Asha, for warmth. McKinnon took the photos after she discovered the two cozied up on her porch in western Victoria, Australia.

In the photos, the baby koala can be seen perched on Asha’s back, as it looks directly at the camera with the golden retriever lying down and looking unbothered. The photos were widely shared at the time.

Several Australian celebrities shared the photos of Asha with the baby koala in an attempt to raise awareness of the fires in Australia. Some posts on Facebook and Twitter received thousands of likes and comments.

CLAIM: NASA satellite photo shows the current wildfires raging in Australia.

THE FACTS: An image circulating on social media that shows much of Australia aglow from the ongoing wildfires was enhanced and is not a NASA photo. It is a 3D visualization made by an artist to capture and highlight the wildfires over a month.

Artist Anthony Hearsey shared the image on Instagram with details about how it was created. He said the 3D visualization was based on fire data from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System. The image is more dramatic than the current NASA map that provides an overview of the fires because it includes fires that occurred in the country for a monthlong period, from Dec. 5, 2019, to Jan. 5. Some of them are now out.

“Scale is a little exaggerated due to the render’s glow, but generally true to the info from the NASA website,” he said on Instagram. “Also note that NOT all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation.”

Hearsey posted the image and the explanation on Facebook, where he said he specializes in photography and post production. The image received thousands of likes and was shared widely, including by celebrities.

“The image was never intended to go viral, nor be used out of context,” Hearsey said in an email to The Associated Press. “It’s essentially a graphical interpretation of zoomed out data from NASA. Nothing more or less.”

At least 26 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland since September, the AP reported Friday.


CLAIM: Finland planning launch of 4-day work week

THE FACTS: The Finnish government on Tuesday squelched a story spreading in international media about the Nordic nation’s plans to reduce the average working time for full-time employees to 24 hours a week, or four six-hour days.

Newspapers and news sites in Britain, the United States, India, Pakistan, Russia and Australia were among the outlets that on Monday credited Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin as the person responsible for the shorter work week plan.

According to government spokeswoman Paivi Anttikoski, Marin floated the idea of Finland someday adopting either a four-day work week or six-hour work days — not both — months before the 34-year-old became the world’s youngest head of government in December.

Neither the agenda of the five-party coalition government Marin leads nor the meeting plans of her Cabinet mention a working hour proposal, the spokeswoman said.

The inaccurate reports are believed to have arisen from a Jan. 2 article published online by New Europe, a Brussels newspaper that mostly covers European Union affairs. New Europe’s story said Marin raised the issue of a six-hours a day, four-day work week in August but hadn’t said more about it since becoming prime minister.

Zoi Didili, the reporter who filed the story, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the translation from original Finnish news sources she relied on had some details wrong, like wrongly claiming that Marin suggested both a four-hour working week and six-hour work day.

New Europe’s story has been revised with a correction, and the publication has been in touch with Marin’s office, Didili said.

“The basis of the story was that we wanted see whether the Finnish prime minister would uphold her earlier views. This time we fell into the trap of not cross-checking this information properly,” Didili said.

“We’ve been very alerted to the fact that so many news outlets reported the story without checking it from original sources, ” she added.