Fact check: Photo of HHS official Rachel Levine in a bathing suit is altered

·3 min read

The claim: A photo shows Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine in a bathing suit

Six months after her historic confirmation, Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine continues to be a frequent subject of online misinformation.

A Facebook photo published Sept. 15 by a page called Battle of the Republic claims to show Levine in a two-piece bathing suit.

"Just in case you were still taking this administration seriously, THIS is your Assistant Secretary of Health," reads text in the photo.

The post accumulated a little more than 200 shares within one day. But other posts with the image have racked up thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram over the past month, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

Since President Joe Biden nominated her, Levine has faced transphobia both on- and offline. Some versions of the image in the Facebook post have used Levine's "deadname," a name assigned at birth, instead of her self-identified name.

More: Biden's pro-LGBTQ stance comes with a surge of anti-LGBTQ misinformation

The photo doesn't show Levine – it's altered, as other independent fact-checking organizations have pointed out.

USA TODAY reached out to Battle of the Republic for comment.

Original photo shows body-positive blogger

The image in the Facebook post stems from the Instagram page of a body-positive blogger and motivational speaker. It was digitally altered to include Levine's face.

Sarah Sapora first published the image on her Instagram page in April 2017. She told Women's Health it was her first time wearing a bikini in 25 years.

Four years later, she reposted the image on her profile – this time to call attention to the manipulated photo featuring Levine.

"Last night, I saw an image of mine had – once again – been turned into a meme designed to mock, shame, and hurt someone," Sapora wrote April 21. "The image featured the face of Dr. Rachel Levine, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Health, edited onto my body, one of those bikini pics that broke the mold so loudly back in 2017."

The altered image also includes two tattoos not present in the original photo. One of them, a biohazard symbol, is associated with HIV-positive individuals.

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"Dr. Levine is laser-focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic," Tara Broido, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told USA TODAY in an email. "Our nation needs to come together to address the biggest public health crisis of our time rather than spread misinformation."

Our rating: Altered

Based on our research, we rate ALTERED a photo that claims to show Levine in a bathing suit. The original image shows a body-positive blogger and was published on Instagram in 2017. The photo was digitally altered to add Levine's face and two tattoos.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Photo of Rachel Levine in a bathing suit is altered