A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the real facts:
CLAIM: Photographs shared on social media show recent fires burning in the Amazon.
THE FACTS: Several dramatic photos of fires in the Amazon that circulated widely on Twitter and Facebook this week are not current. Three of the most shared photos were published between 2009 and 2018. One photo, taken at night, was shot in 2008 by Daniel Beltra for Greenpeace. Beltra said the photo — which shows flames spreading under trees with the ground aglow — was published in 2009 in a book for Prince Charles of England titled "Rainforests: Lifebelt for an Endangered Planet." Of the two other photos, one shows trees burning in clouds of black smoke. It was taken by photographer Mario Tama and published by the Getty photo agency in 2014, described only as "The Amazon basin in Brazil." The other shows a diagonal line of fire running between a burned area and untouched grass. It was taken in the municipality of Apui, in Amazonas state, by Reuters photographer Bruno Kellyin in August 2017 and published the same month. It was captured during an operation by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources to combat illegal logging in the area. There have been a record number of forest fires in Brazil this year. As of Thursday, Brazil's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, had recorded 76,720 wildfires across the country this year. That's an 85% rise over last year's figure. And a little more than half of those, 40,341, have been spotted in the Amazon region.
CLAIM: National Geographic is participating in a fundraising campaign on Instagram that will give $1 for every "like" on posts to benefit the Amazon following the fires.
THE FACTS: National Geographic is not participating in a campaign circulating on Instagram to raise money for the Amazon. Several Instagram accounts began sharing the false campaign information as posts about the fires began to attract wide attention online. The accounts encourage users to share their posts. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said "we are investigating this scam and will remove accounts and content that promote it." The post used an image showing an Amazon rainforest fire in 1989 and overlaid it with text reading "1 like= $1." At the bottom of the photo, they added "partnered with @natgeo." The post states that "for every like, we will donate $1 to @natgeo to restore and re-plant the Amazonia." Meg Calnan, National Geographic senior director of communications, said in an email that National Geographic was not participating in any such campaign. "We are not affiliated with these organizations or social media accounts and are working to address these inaccuracies," she said. Several accounts asking for likes were also sharing the misinformation in Spanish.
CLAIM: Black-and-white photo shows Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in a uniform undergoing military training.
THE FACTS: The photograph of a woman with an automatic weapon was taken by The Associated Press on Feb. 25, 1978, before Omar was born. According to information with the photo, it was taken at a military training campus at Halane, Somalia. The photograph circulated widely on Facebook with information that falsely identifies Omar as being pictured with a gun. "Ilhan Omar said she hates guns!!!" reads the text of one Facebook post that uses the photo. "Jihadi Omar at a Training Camp for Terrorists!" states another. Omar, a Somali-American who became the first Muslim refugee elected to U.S. Congress last year, was born on Oct. 4, 1982 — more than four years after the photograph was taken. In a tweet late Wednesday night, Omar described false online claims about the photograph as "dangerous disgusting and disturbing." A spokesman for Omar referred the AP to the congresswoman's tweet. The AP's caption does not name the two people in the photo but describes the one checking her gun as a Somali army recruit. She is wearing a headdress and a uniform that features a white belt. It describes the uniformed person standing behind her as an instructor.
CLAIM: Court upholds North Dakota law stripping voting rights from Native Americans.
THE FACTS: Posts circulating on Facebook wrongly assert that Native Americans have been stripped of voting rights in North Dakota. They are still eligible to vote in the state. However, a change to North Dakota's voter ID law has been criticized for potentially suppressing Native American votes. North Dakota law requires voters to provide an ID listing an address, but not all residents on tribal land have one. Before 2013, voters who did not have one could sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility. That provision was removed by state Republicans after Democrat Heidi Heitkamp narrowly claimed a U.S. Senate seat in 2012 with the help of votes cast by Native Americans, who make up 5% of the state's population. The rule change faces legal challenges because many living on reservations use post office boxes, not street addresses. Last October, weeks before the midterm elections, the U.S. Supreme Court responded to an emergency appeal from the tribes by upholding the state's voter ID rules. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld state voter ID laws earlier this month in a ruling, spurring the inaccurate statements on social media. Federally recognized tribes can assign tribal members addresses. The North Dakota Secretary of State also told voters in the largely rural state that they can establish or identify an address for their home by contacting the county's 911 coordinator. The AP reported last year that at least dozens of Native Americans were unable to cast ballots because of the new rules but turnout was up in two counties with Native American reservations.
THE FACTS: The false post circulated widely on Instagram early this week and was shared by several high-profile figures. "Everything you've ever posted becomes public from today even messages that have been deleted...," the post falsely claimed. "If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tacitly allowing the use of your photos." On Tuesday, Adam Mosseri, who heads Instagram, countered the claim, posting: "Heads up! If you're seeing a meme claiming Instagram is changing its rules tomorrow. It's not true." Actors Rob Lowe and Debra Messing, as well as Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were among those who shared the post. In a now-deleted post, Perry, who oversees the nation's nuclear arsenal, had written, "Feel free to repost!! #nothanksinstagram." Versions of the hoax can be found on Facebook dating to at least 2012, when a post with similar phrasing surfaced. "There's no truth to this post," Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, told the AP in an email Wednesday. Instagram says in its data policy that it does collect some information from its users. "We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others," its policy states.
Associated Press writers Beatrice Dupuy and Arijeta Lajka in New York, and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.
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.
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