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:
False claims target Bible used for Biden's presidential inauguration
CLAIM: President Joe Biden swore on a "Masonic/Illuminati" Bible during his inauguration last week.
THE FACTS: Following Biden's inauguration, false social media posts spread about the Bible he used to take his oath of office. Some social media users falsely suggested that the several-inches thick Bible, a Biden family heirloom, was "Masonic" or associated with an Illuminati conspiracy.
Conspiracy theorists suggest the Illuminati, a purported secret society, wants world domination. Freemasons, a fraternal organization, have been the subject of conspiracy theories since the group was founded over 300 years ago. Some founding fathers were even part of the group.
"Sooo has anyone else realized this yet or???? Masonic/Illuminati Bible that Biden swore on yesterday…" wrote one Facebook user along with a photo of Biden's hand on the Bible. The false post had 19,000 shares. But in fact, Biden was sworn in on a Douay-Rheims Bible, an English translation of a Latin Bible. The Bible has been in the Biden family since the 1890s. He used the same Bible when he was sworn in twice as vice president and seven times as a senator from Delaware, The Associated Press reported.
"Nothing even vaguely Masonic would have been anywhere near these Bibles," Robert Miller, professor of biblical studies at The Catholic University of America, told the AP in an email. "Same thing for the 'Illuminati,' to the extent that such a thing existed: repeatedly condemned by the Popes and certainly coming nowhere into contact with Catholic Bibles." Rev. Brent A. Strawn, a professor of Old Testament and law at Duke University, told the AP in an email that there's "no conspiracy" behind the Bible. He explained that the Douay-Rheims Bible is a translation of the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. "Douay-Rheims is simply an English translation of the Latin Bible so popular in Catholic piety and worship," he said.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
No, Biden did not instruct ICE to release all detained immigrants
CLAIM: A new order from the Biden administration directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to release all detained immigrants immediately.
THE FACTS: The Biden administration did not order all immigrants to be released from ICE custody. The false claim is based on an email issued by a local ICE officer in Houston to agents that was leaked to Fox News and taken out of context. The email begins "I am just the messenger..." and instructs agents in that office to "stop all removals." One line reads, "Release them all, immediately. No sponsor available is not acceptable any longer." The email signature shows the author of the email holds the rank of assistant officer in charge for the Houston ICE field office.
Social media users and conservative websites cited the leaked email to spread the false claim that the Biden administration's various immigration reforms had included immediate, mass releases of detained immigrants. "Joe Biden Orders ICE Agents to Release All Illegal Aliens in Custody," read the headline of one article that was widely shared on Facebook.
Biden's Department of Homeland Security did issue a memo on Jan. 20 that established enforcement priorities and paused deportations of certain noncitizens who already had a final order of removal. But that directive, which was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas on Tuesday, did not include an order to release all immigrants from detention. A statement issued by ICE that was shared with the AP on Tuesday confirms the agency is not under orders to free everyone in its custody.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to make custody determinations on a case by case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy," reads the statement. "During the course of routine operations, individuals can be released from custody based on the facts and circumstances of their cases." Furthermore, a review of the email thread from the Houston ICE office revealed that the email in question was retracted a day later, only applied to a certain cohort of detainees and was issued in response to a federal court order — not a directive from Biden's administration. The emails became available to the public as part of a lawsuit the state of Texas filed against the Biden administration over its deportation moratorium. The email thread, which redacts email addresses and names, shows that after the first email was sent late Thursday morning, it was reversed Friday afternoon by an email that read, "Retract this directive immediately." That second email was signed "FOD," which is likely a reference to the field office director, the highest ranking position in the Houston office. Another email in the chain clarifies the initial email was not instructing agents to release all immigrants, but rather "High risk detainees" with health issues who had to be evaluated for release under an ongoing federal lawsuit. In that legal case, a federal judge in California had previously ordered ICE to individually review detainees and identify those who were at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 and prioritize their release. "ICE does have the obligation to affirmatively review anyone in their custody with risk factors," said Elizabeth Jordan, an attorney with Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, which represents immigrant detainees in that lawsuit.
— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix contributed this report.
WHO did not say COVID-19 test led to case numbers being overstated
CLAIM: The World Health Organization admits that PCR tests to diagnose COVID-19 gave massive false positives, overinflating COVID-19 case numbers.
THE FACTS: A WHO press release is being misrepresented online to say it shows that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 caused large scale false positives. Since the outset of the pandemic, some social media users have been falsely suggesting that false positive test results are the real reason behind the millions of reported COVID-19 cases. The latest posts are misrepresenting a WHO information notice.
In widely shared posts on Facebook and Twitter, social media users claim the WHO admitted that PCR tests were causing false positives. Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said that people are confusing infectiousness with what they think are false positives. The PCR test can determine when someone is at the beginning of the virus or at the tail end of it. "The PCR test doesn't find something that is not there, the virus is there," she said.
The PCR test is generally a more sensitive test compared to rapid antigen tests, which identify proteins from the virus. The WHO released an informational notice to lab technicians on Dec. 14 clarifying instructions about analyzing PCR tests for COVID-19. WHO then updated the news release and published it on Jan. 20. The January release spread online with claims it revealed a failure by the WHO. "Wait. So there were too many false positives because the PCR tests were set at too high a threshold?" one Facebook post said. "Man, I hadn't heard that anywhere — except about 5 million times from reputable doctors who were conveniently silenced by the media for the past 10 months."
But the WHO made no such admission, nor did the health agency see a large scale number of false positives. The supposedly "massive" false positives being mentioned in the post were in fact much rarer. WHO told The Associated Press that it has received 10 reports of problems related to PCR tests for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. "The reports were for misdiagnosis, both false positive and false negative results," according to WHO. "After thorough investigation, WHO confirmed that tests were not always being used appropriately and in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer." The release emphasized the importance of knowing the details about the patient, the number of cycles of testing done when analyzing the specimen provided as well as the patient's clinical history. PCR tests work by analyzing the viral load in cycles. Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said the higher the viral load in a patient the easier it is for a PCR test to become positive. More cycles of the test are needed to detect infections with a lower viral load, such as at the start or end of having the virus.
—-Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
The National Guard received no offer to stay at Trump Hotel in Washington
CLAIM: Donald Trump invited National Guard members to stay at the Trump Hotel in Washington so they didn't have to sleep in a cold parking garage.
THE FACTS: A spokesperson with the National Guard Bureau told The Associated Press they received no offers to stay at Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., the former president's hotel. After National Guard troops came to Washington to secure President Joe Biden's inauguration, they were temporarily assigned to take rest breaks in a parking garage. Images of the guard members camping on the garage floor on Jan. 21 sparked widespread outrage as well as misinformation online.
"President Trump said he is opening his entire Trump Hotel in Washington, DC to the National Guard troops whom President Biden and the Democrats literally kicked to the curb, having sent them to bed down in the unheated Capitol parking garage with no food and only one toilet for 1,000s of men. God bless President Trump!!!" read one popular Facebook post. "Most media won't tell you that TRUMP HAS OFFERED THE NATIONAL GUARD STILL REMAINING IN D.C. to stay at his hotel, rather than sleep on the garage cold floor," another Facebook post stated.
But guard officials say the troops already had hotel rooms and no such offer from Trump was ever communicated. "We have not received any offers at the National Guard Bureau," Maj. Matt Murphy, media relations officer at the bureau, told the AP in an email. A spokesperson at Trump International Hotel in Washington declined to comment when contacted by the AP. Captain Chelsi Johnson, a spokesperson for the D.C. National Guard, said all troops participating in the mission had hotel rooms to go back to at the end of their shifts. Some photos circulated online that appeared to show some troops inside the Trump Hotel, though the photos were first posted before claims that Trump had offered his hotel to them. "For this mission we are not lodging any National Guard troops at the Trump Hotel," Johnson said. "National Guard troops can rest in between their shifts at a location of their choosing." In a briefing on Monday, Army Maj. Gen. William J. Walker said guard members photographed in the garage on Jan. 21 were taking rest breaks. "Nobody slept there. Nobody spent the night there," Walker said. At the same briefing he said, "You stand 12 hours on your feet, you want to take a break." The AP reported the National Guard said it originally moved troops out of the Capitol Rotunda and other spaces to rest in garages at the behest of the Capitol Police. The National Guard and Capitol Police issued a joint statement on Jan. 22 saying they coordinated to establish "appropriate spaces" within congressional buildings for on-duty breaks, according to AP reporting.
— Jude Joffe-Block and Arijeta Lajka
Bill Gates did not say '3 billion people need to die'
CLAIM: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wants to eliminate at least 3 billion people in the world, starting in Africa, in a plot involving vaccines.
THE FACTS: A 2019 video falsely claiming Gates wants to depopulate the globe is circulating online anew this month as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available in the United States and elsewhere. Instagram and Twitter posts containing the video made the further unsubstantiated claim that Gates wanted to use mandatory vaccines as part of his plan to eliminate billions of people.
The video shows naturopath Robert O. Young, who uses natural remedies in healing, speaking on a panel for the International Tribunal for Natural Justice, an independent, U.K.-based group that holds "hearings" and "trials" and whose members have promoted baseless conspiracy theories about 5G technology and the coronavirus. Young, who has previously been convicted for practicing medicine without a license and was ordered to pay $105 million to a woman who said he advised her against traditional cancer treatment, claimed without evidence that Gates planned to kill billions of people, starting in Africa.
"In the words of Bill Gates, at least 3 billion people need to die," Young said. "So we'll just start off in Africa, we'll start doing our research there, and we'll eliminate most of the Africans because they're deplorable. They're worthless. They're not part of this world economy."
A review of public statements by Gates found nothing matching these claims. Young's statement appeared to misrepresent comments Gates made during a TED Talk in 2010, when he said vaccines and improved health care could help reduce the rate of global population growth and, as a result, lower carbon emissions. "The world today has 6.8 billion people," Gates said during the talk. "That's headed up to about 9 billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we lower that by perhaps 10 or 15%." Gates was talking about reducing the rate of population growth, not the population, by 10 or 15%. In past interviews, Gates has argued that improving vaccines and health care can paradoxically slow the rate of population growth in poor countries, because it lowers the child mortality rate. With more children making it to adulthood, Gates has said, parents may choose to have a smaller family size. "Amazingly, as children survive, parents feel like they'll have enough kids to support them in their old age, so they choose to have less children," Gates said in a 2012 interview. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Tribunal for Natural Justice did not respond to requests for comment.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Semora, North Carolina, contributed this report.
Biden cancellation of Keystone XL pipeline was not a favor to Warren Buffet
CLAIM: Billionaire Warren Buffett donated $58 million to President Joe Biden's campaign, so Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline as a favor to Buffett.
THE FACTS: Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, did not donate to Biden's presidential campaign, nor did he endorse him. Buffett previously has voiced public support for the Keystone XL pipeline. On Biden's first day in office, he canceled the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline saying it was not consistent with the administration's "economic and climate imperatives."
The 1,700-mile pipeline was planned to carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. A Facebook post that has been shared more than 60,000 times suggests Biden halted the pipeline not for environmental reasons, but as a favor to Buffett. But the post's main thesis, that the billionaire investor was a major donor to Biden's campaign, is not true. "Warren Buffet owns the railroad that is now transporting all that oil. Warren Buffet donated 58 million to Biden campaign. Warren Buffet would lose billions in transport fees if the pipeline is completed. See how politics works? It is not an environmental issue, it is a money issue…" the Facebook post reads.
In fact, there is no record Buffett gave any money to Biden's 2020 presidential bid, and Buffett's assistant, Debbie Bosanek, confirmed to The Associated Press that he did not. Federal Election Commission records show that Buffett made no individual contributions in 2020. In 2019, he gave $248,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic House candidates, and $5,800 to Democratic Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly's campaign. In 2018, he gave $33,900 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $33,900 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and $2,700 each to the campaigns of Democrats Donna Shalala and Rufus Gifford. Bosanek told the AP that the 90-year-old billionaire did not make other donations through a political action committee in the 2020 campaign cycle. Nor did Buffett campaign in favor of the current president. "Mr. Buffett did not endorse Mr. Biden, but both he and his wife voted for Mr. Biden," Bosanek told the AP in an email. It is true that Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns BNSF Railway, a freight railroad network that transports crude oil. While analysts over the years have suggested that the Keystone XL pipeline would take business from BNSF, Buffett voiced his support for the project in a CNBC television appearance in 2014. "It's not that big of a competitor," Buffett said at the time. "I think probably the Keystone pipeline is a good idea for the country." Bosanek told the AP that Buffett had not offered any opinions about the project more recently that he can remember, nor did he have a stance on how it would impact his business. "Mr. Buffett has never seen any report by BNSF projecting whether the Keystone Pipeline would increase or decrease the revenue of the railroad," Bosanek wrote.