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

News

FILE – This Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 file photo shows part of a 1040 federal tax form printed from the Internal Revenue Service website. On Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s tax rate on a family making $75,000 dollars a year would go from 12% to 25%. A current federal tax rate of 12% applies to families making up to $80,000, or individuals making up to $40,000. That would still apply under Biden, who has vowed publicly not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. (Associated Press)

Here’s 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:

CLAIM: Biden’s tax rate on a family making $75,000 dollars a year would go from 12% to 25%.

THE FACTS: False posts circulating on Facebook and Twitter claim that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has proposed a staggering tax increase for families making $75,000 a year. A current federal tax rate of 12 percent applies to families making up to $80,000, or individuals making up to $40,000. That would still apply under Biden, who has vowed publicly not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. “Nobody making under $400,000 bucks would have their taxes raised. Period. Bingo,” Biden said in an interview on CNBC in May. Biden has proposed increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. He has also proposed a 12.4 percent Social Security tax for income above $400,000, in addition to rolling back the 2018 tax cuts that President Donald Trump signed into law for those making $400,000 or more. An analysis of his tax plan performed by University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model in March found that the bottom 90 percent of income earners would not pay more in federal income taxes under Biden’s proposal. Another analysis of Biden’s tax plan by the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C., predicted a slight increase for the bottom 99 percent of earners. On average, the report said earners in varying brackets could pay between an extra $30 to $590, as a result of Biden’s tax plan. But that increase, the Tax Policy Center said, would not be the result of Biden directly raising taxes on those earners. Instead, the Tax Policy Center predicted workers would indirectly pay more because of Biden’s plan to increase the corporate tax, a cost which some employers could pass along in ways to their own employees.

CLAIM: Vice President Mike Pence said he will not debate Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence to support a widely viewed social media post stating “Pence said he won’t debate Kamala!” In fact, after Biden announced Harris as his running mate, Pence indicated enthusiasm to face off at their scheduled debate on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. “So my message to the Democratic candidate for vice president: Congratulations – I’ll see you in Salt Lake City,” Pence said on Aug. 11 in front of a crowd of supporters in Arizona. The next day on Fox News, Pence brought up his upcoming debate against Harris again. “I think she is a skilled debater,” Pence told host Sean Hannity. “But I can’t wait to get to Salt Lake City and be on the stage with her to compare Joe Biden’s nearly 50 years in public life, the agenda of the radical left, the agenda that she has embraced throughout her political career, with the results of this president and this administration.”

CLAIM: Three photos spreading on social media show that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker did not wear masks at a rally together, revealing their hypocrisy during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE FACTS: The photos were taken at a campaign rally in Detroit on March 9. That was before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending Americans wear masks and before Michigan announced its first presumptive positive coronavirus case. The photos, which show Biden, Harris, Whitmer and Booker standing next to each other addressing a large crowd without face masks, were shared widely on social media during the Democratic National Convention. One photo shows Whitmer embracing Biden onstage. Dozens of posts featuring the photos accused the politicians of advising constituents to wear masks and engage in social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic, while disregarding their own recommendations. “Not a mask in sight, Governor,” read one Facebook post viewed more than 50,000 times. “Tell me again why you are trying to force Michigan to wear one.” But an internet search for Michigan events attended by the four politicians reveals the photos were taken on March 9, at a Detroit rally on the eve of the state’s primary election. Associated Press photos of the event show the setting and the clothing worn by the politicians match the photos currently spreading on social media. Michigan did not announce its first presumptive positive case of the coronavirus until a day later, on March 10. It wasn’t until early April that the CDC began advising all Americans to wear cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to reporting by the AP. All four politicians have been photographed wearing face masks in public settings in recent months.

CLAIM: The argument that Americans rely on the United States Postal Service for Social Security benefits is invalid because the Social Security Administration stopped mailing paper checks in 2013.

THE FACTS: The SSA encourages Americans to create digital accounts and receive their benefits electronically, but hundreds of thousands of users still count on the Postal Service to get their checks every month. As lawmakers in Washington fought with the president over funding for the Postal Service ahead of an election that will likely involve unprecedented levels of mail-in voting, several politicians pointed out that Americans rely on the mail for essential services such as Social Security. Democrats doubled down on that argument during the first night of the Democratic National Convention, with host Eva Longoria Bastón saying, “Social Security beneficiaries count on the post office to get their checks.” Conservative websites and social media users quickly pushed back on those claims, pointing to a 2013 initiative by the U.S. Department of the Treasury that was meant to phase out paper checks and transition them to all-electronic delivery. “I wonder if CNN will fact check itself,” read one Instagram post with a video clip from the first night of the Democratic National Convention. “Social Security stopped sending paper checks in 2013…” It’s true that there was a federal government initiative to move toward electronic payments in 2013, and the vast majority of Social Security recipients receive electronic payments. But the SSA confirmed to The Associated Press in an email that hundreds of thousands of Americans still rely on the Postal Service to get their checks. “Currently, the Social Security Administration pays approximately 71.6 million (98.8%) Social Security and SSI benefits electronically per month and mails nearly 850,000 (1.2%) per month,” wrote Mark Hinkle, acting press officer for the agency. The SSA also mails millions of paper statements every year to workers aged 60 and older who do not receive Social Security benefits and don’t have digital accounts.

CLAIM: Locked mailboxes in front of a post office in Burbank, California, are proof that massive voter suppression is underway ahead of the election.

THE FACTS: The boxes were locked to prevent theft, Postal Service officials said. Social media users are sharing photos of locked mailboxes in front of the Downtown Station post office in Burbank, California, suggesting the move is to suppress voting in upcoming elections. “Spread this far and wide! This is massive voter suppression happening in front of us! The Post Office in Burbank, CA. All outdoor boxes locked shut. The entrance to the Post Office is locked and you can’t mail a letter?” the post on Facebook with the photo of the locked boxes said. A Postal Service official told the AP that anti-theft locking devices were placed on the boxes in front of the Burbank Post Office to deter mail theft. The are locked during the hours the post office is closed. “The use of Collection Box Anti-theft locking devices, such as at the Burbank Post Office, have been in place since approximately 2016 and this device was developed as a mail theft deterrent,” said Evelina Ramirez, a Postal Service spokeswoman. The locks are placed on the boxes after the last collection of the day and removed at the start of then next business day. Ramirez said openings on the back of the box allow for mail to be deposited into the collection box, while the locks on the front are designed to keep mail from being removed. A video online of the locked boxes circulating on Twitter shows the letter opening on the back of the locked USPS collection boxes. The posts online come as concerns grow that the Trump administration is working to undermine the Postal Service before the election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called Congress back into session to address concerns.

CLAIM: There was fraud in Michigan’s Aug. 4 statewide primary election because “deceased people” cast ballots, and 8% of all votes cast were rejected because the voter was dead.

THE FACTS: Michigan election authorities have not found any evidence votes were cast on behalf of dead people in the Aug. 4 primary election. Rather, a small portion of voters who had cast absentee ballots died before Election Day. Those ballots were disqualified. They represented 8% of all rejected absentee ballots, not 8% of all ballots cast. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last week that 10,694 absentee ballots were disqualified in the state’s recent primary. About 8% of those rejected ballots, 846, were rejected because the voters “died after casting their absentee ballot but before Election Day,” according to an Aug. 14 press release from Benson’s office. “We get monthly updates from the Social Security Administration that allows us to update the qualified voter file with the list of everyone who is deceased,” Benson’s spokesperson Tracy Wimmer told the AP. Wimmer said that the voters in question were eligible to vote when they requested their absentee ballots but died in the period before Election Day. She said the fact that her office caught and rejected those ballots during the verification process “validates that the system works.” Still, facts about Michigan voting were twisted on social media. “BREAKING: MASSIVE VOTER FRAUD IN MICHIGAN PRIMARY,” read one popular but misleading Instagram post. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a Breitbart article headlined, “Michigan Rejects 846 Mailed Ballots ‘Because the Voter Was Dead,’” and added the inaccurate claim, “Hey, it was only about 8% of the votes cast which I imagine are amateur numbers for the democrats in places like Michigan.” In 2016, an even larger number of absentee ballots — around 1,700 — were disqualified in Michigan because the voter died before Election Day, according to Wimmer. “There wasn’t evidence of fraud then, and there’s not evidence of fraud now,” she told the AP.

CLAIM: Guinness World Records “certified” that the boat parade supporting President Trump in Clearwater, Florida, was the “largest boat parade in history.”

THE FACTS: The Guinness World Records told The Associated Press on Monday that the application for the Clearwater boat parade supporting Trump is still being reviewed. It could take up to 15 weeks to confirm whether it broke the current record. The parade of boats, most flying pro-Trump and U.S. flags, began near Clearwater on Saturday, Aug. 15. Parade organizers were hoping to break world records. “This is gonna be the MOAB… Mother of all Boat Parades…The current world record according to Guinness Book of World Records was achieved in Malaysia in 2014 and had a recorded 1,180 boats,” the organizer’s website, Conservative Grounds, stated. “In honor of the 45th President Donald J. Trump we will beat the world record in his name.” Social media users falsely claimed on social media that the boat parade already broke records: “Guiness Book of World Records certified that today’s Trump boat parade was the largest boat parade in history. Clearwater, Florida,” said one Facebook user. The post had more than 1,000 shares. Officials at Guinness World Records said they are examining whether the Trump boat parade was the largest, a process that could take weeks. “We can confirm we have received an application for this title and attempt. We are currently awaiting evidence to review,” Amanda Marcus, public relations manager at Guinness World Records, told the AP in an email. “Our standard application review process can take up to 12-15 weeks of submission. Once received and reviewed, our Records Management Team will then confirm the success or failure of the record attempt,” Marcus said. The largest parade on record occurred on Sept. 13, 2014, during Malaysia Day celebrations in the Kemaman District of Terengganu, Malaysia. There were 1,180 boats in the parade.

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