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:
Posts misidentify photos of trans women as Uvalde school shooter
CLAIM: Photos shared on Reddit of a woman — wearing a Coca-Cola sweatshirt and black skirt in one picture and a NASA shirt in another — show Salvador Ramos, who officials say fatally shot 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Another photo of a woman holding a green bottle to her mouth also shows Ramos.
THE FACTS: None of those images show Ramos. On Tuesday, Ramos stormed an elementary school and committed the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in nearly a decade. Immediately, social media users began speculating about Ramos’ identity, and some shared photos of transgender women that had been previously posted online, falsely claiming they were of Ramos. Some social media users shared a photo of a woman wearing a Coca-Cola sweatshirt and a black skirt, and a similar image in which she is holding a transgender pride flag. Other widespread posts showed a photo from the same account of the woman wearing a black NASA shirt with a red skirt. “OMG! I found the shooter’s reddit account. Was a transgender,” one tweet of the two photos claimed. The post was later deleted for violating Twitter rules. The images were also shared in Facebook posts. But the photos are not of Ramos. The photo of the woman in the Coca-Cola shirt was originally posted to a Reddit account in February, while the photo with the NASA shirt was posted in April. The Reddit user is actually named Sam, and she confirmed her identity to the AP. The AP is not using Sam’s last name to protect her privacy. Sam posted on her Reddit account Wednesday with a photo of herself, holding a paper showing the date in the photo as evidence that she is not Ramos, who was fatally shot by authorities responding to the shooting. Sam also posted a photo earlier with the title, “it’s not me, I don’t even live in texas.” “They are my pics. people are using to make trans people look like murderers and blaming me for the shooting,” Sam said in a response to one comment on Reddit. In other social media posts, users misidentified photos of another woman holding a green bottle to her mouth. But the photo also did not show Ramos. It actually depicts a 22-year-old trans woman named Sabrina who lives in New York City, she confirmed to the AP in an interview. Sabrina, who requested her last name not be published due to privacy concerns, provided a link to a tweet from days earlier in which she had shared a version of the same image. Sabrina responded to a number of tweets driving the misidentification, asking for them to be deleted. “This whole ordeal is just horrifying,” she told the AP.
— Associated Press writers Karena Phan in New York and Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
ABC didn’t publish altered photo of Texas school shooter
CLAIM: ABC News published an altered photo of the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school gunman in which his skin was lightened and his facial features were changed.
THE FACTS: A spokesperson for ABC confirmed to the AP that the manipulated photo is being falsely attributed to the news organization. In the hours following the mass shooting at the elementary school, social media users began circulating false claims about coverage of the shooter and his identity. Investigators identified the assailant, who shot and killed 19 children and two teachers, as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. One claim that spread widely on Twitter on Tuesday erroneously stated that ABC News and its program “Good Morning America” used an edited photo of Ramos in their reports. “ABC News altered Salvador Ramos’s photo to appear more Caucasian,” one tweet falsely claimed. The post included side-by-side images of the actual photo of Ramos, distributed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, next to what the user purported was a photo used in ABC broadcasts showing him with noticeably lighter skin and completely different facial features. A spokesperson for ABC confirmed to the AP that there is no truth to the claims, and that the news agency did not alter the image, nor did it run the manipulated image being attributed to it. “This claim is false,” added Van Scott, vice president of communications for ABC News. Social media users suggested ABC News and “Good Morning America” had included the lightened photo in a broadcast clip that was then tweeted. But the altered image was inserted into a screenshot of an ABC tweet. Actual tweets of the coverage from ABC News and “Good Morning America” show the broadcaster used only the unedited photo of Ramos. There are other signs the altered photo did not come from ABC. A chyron overlaid on the manipulated image saying “that gunman, 18 years old,” featured a grammatical error and an incorrect typeface that is not used by ABC. The legitimate broadcast clip from Tuesday does not show any such chyron over the photo.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.
Pfizer does not make a vaccine for monkeypox
CLAIM: Pfizer received FDA approval for a new monkeypox shot the day after the U.S. purchased millions of dollars worth of vaccine for the disease.
THE FACTS: Pfizer does not make a monkeypox vaccine, nor did it recently receive approval for one, a company representative told the AP. Danish company Bavarian Nordic makes the only FDA-approved vaccine for monkeypox in the U.S. The unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox in Europe and the U.S. has sparked misinformation about potential efforts to control spread of the disease. “One case of ‘MonkeyPox’ was found in Massachusetts this week... In less than 48 hours the United States Government had purchased 13 million MonkeyPox vaccines for $119 million. A day later, Pfizer received FDA approval for a New Monkey Pox Vaccine,” one widely shared tweet falsely claims. But Pfizer does not make a vaccine to target monkeypox, Jerica Pitts, a Pfizer spokesperson, told the AP in an email. Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms. The smallpox vaccine can be used for monkeypox. In September 2019, the FDA approved Bavarian Nordic's Jynneos for use by people over the age of 18 who are at higher risk for smallpox and monkeypox infection. Jynneos is the only vaccine approved by the FDA to prevent monkeypox. This vaccine is also part of the nation’s stockpile in case of a public health emergency. While social media users suggested a recent order was made because of monkeypox cases, the company says the order was part of an already existing contract to obtain smallpox vaccines for the national stockpile. The stockpile already contains doses of the Jynneos vaccine that were delivered under previous contracts. Last week, Bavarian Nordic announced that the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) had exercised options to order Jynneos vaccine doses worth $119 million. The U.S. still has options to order $180 million more from the company. If exercised, the company said the total $299 million order would be approximately 13 million doses. “Our recent order from BARDA as you refer to has no relation whatsoever to the current monkeypox outbreak,” Thomas Duschek, a spokesperson for Bavarian Nordic, said in an email to the AP. “We have worked with the US government and BARDA for almost 20 years to develop and supply a non-replicating smallpox vaccine for the national stockpile in the event of a bioterror attack or natural re-emergence of smallpox,” Duschek said. Suzanne Sellman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also confirmed in an email to the AP that the BARDA purchase “was part of standard and ongoing preparedness efforts, and unrelated to specific events.” The vaccine is available to be deployed for monkeypox, Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said in a statement. Health officials stress that while this is the first time monkeypox appears to be spreading among people who didn’t travel to Africa, the risk to the general population is low.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
COVID-19 vaccines didn’t cause monkeypox outbreak
CLAIM: The chimpanzee adenovirus vector used in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is causing the monkeypox outbreak.
THE FACTS: Adenoviruses and poxviruses are unrelated, and monkeys and chimpanzees are different species. While the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine uses a harmless, weakened chimp adenovirus to trigger an immune response, the strain has been altered so it cannot infect humans, nor could it cause monkeypox. As global health authorities investigate the recent monkeypox outbreak, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about its origins. “Oh, they put Monkey Pox in the vaccines,” suggested one Twitter user, sharing an image of an AstraZeneca vaccine pamphlet that listed “recombinant, replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus.” But experts say it is not possible for the chimpanzee adenovirus vector used in the shot to cause monkeypox for a number of reasons, including that the two illnesses are unrelated, the viral vector vaccines cannot infect humans and chimpanzees and monkeys are different species. “On three different levels there are issues with this theory,” said Dr. Mark Slifka, a microbiology and immunology expert and professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Dr. Andrea McCollum, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Poxvirus and Rabies Branch, also told the AP that “there is no data to support this claim.” Adenoviruses are a common group of viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms in humans and animals. Viral vector vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, use dead, nonreplicable strains of such adenoviruses to generate an immune response that can in turn help fight the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC. Monkeypox is a virus that belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, but causes milder symptoms. “Adenoviruses are adenoviruses, they are not poxviruses. They are completely different families and have no relationship whatsoever to each other,” Slifka said, adding, “there’s no cross-reactivity in terms of antibody responses between an adenovirus and a poxvirus.” Dr. David Freedman, an infectious diseases expert and president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, confirmed that the adenovirus used in the AstraZeneca vaccine, and other similar vaccines, is not capable of making humans sick with either illness. Dr. David Heymann, a leading adviser to the World Health Organization, told the AP this week that the recent monkeypox outbreak appears to have been caused by sexual activity at two raves in Europe. To date, the WHO has recorded more than 90 cases in a dozen countries including Canada, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia. The cases so far have been mild, with no deaths reported.
— Sophia Tulp
Monkeypox not related to shingles or COVID-19 vaccines
CLAIM: The recent cases of monkeypox are actually just shingles, and the cases are a result of the COVID-19 vaccine.
THE FACTS: Shingles and monkeypox are not the same and are caused by different viruses, according to experts, who also explained that COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause monkeypox. Many posts making the false claim include an outdated screenshot from a news site that incorrectly used a stock photo of a hand with a shingles rash to illustrate an article about monkeypox. That article was contrasted side-by-side with the same image on a page about shingles. The headline over the photo on TheHealthSite.com, a health news website based in India, from July 17, 2021, reads: “Rare Monkeypox cases reported from US, First Time In Nearly 20 Years: All You Need To Know About It.” The headline on the other side, which comes from the state government health department website of Queensland, Australia, reads: “What is shingles? (with pictures)” One Twitter post shared the photo on Monday with the comment: “Are we just rebranding now??! #Monkeypox.” Other posts claimed that the virus is an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. TheHealthSite.com updated its 2021 story with a new photo on May 23, 2022. The widely-shared screenshot shows the old photo, according to the Wayback Machine. The photo can be found on several stockphoto sites. The caption from iStock by Getty Images reads, “Skin infected Herpes zoster virus on the arms,” using another name for shingles. Neither the photographer nor TheHealthSite.com responded to the AP’s request for comment. Jonathan Ball, a life sciences professor at the University of Nottingham, explained that shingles is onset by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the herpes virus that causes chickenpox. If a person had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system and can re-emerge to cause shingles many years later. Monkeypox is a rare disease related to the same virus family as smallpox, but with milder symptoms. It originates in wild animals like rodents and primates. Monkeypox was first identified by scientists in 1958. “Occasionally, this virus spills over into humans causing local outbreaks and sometimes infections can be exported to other countries," Ball said in an email. Both monkeypox and shingles cause a rash with small blisters, said Dr. Seth Blumberg, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. Monkeypox affects the entire body, while shingles usually affects one narrow strip of skin on just one side of the body. Blumberg added that COVID-19 vaccination would not cause monkeypox, saying, “you can only get monkeypox if you are directly exposed to the virus via an infected human or an infected animal.” According to medical experts, there have been some case reports of individuals getting shingles after being vaccinated for COVID. However, experts said those cases are rare and no definite link has been established between the shots and the virus that causes shingles.
— Karena Phan
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