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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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


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:

No, a Dominion Voting Systems-owned bank didn’t give Ron DeSantis $2 million

CLAIM: A bank owned by Dominion Voting Systems, Sequoia Capital, donated $2 million to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

THE FACTS: A venture capitalist with Sequoia, a firm that finances emerging companies, contributed $2 million to a political group that is supporting DeSantis’ presidential bid. But Dominion does not own Sequoia Capital; it bought the assets of an unrelated company called Sequoia Voting Systems in 2010. Yet social media users are twisting the facts to suggest that DeSantis is being financially supported by Dominion, a company that was at the center of false claims and conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. “Of course Ron DeSantis is now claiming the 2020 election was not stolen,” reads one popular tweet on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, referencing DeSantis’ recent comments about the last presidential race. “The dude took in a 2 million dollar donation from Sequoia Capital Bank, owned by DOMINION.” In reality, a filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that Doug Leone, a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, contributed $2 million to Never Back Down — a super PAC supporting DeSantis. But Dominion doesn’t own Sequoia Capital, a firm that invested in companies such as Apple, Google and Airbnb. “Dominion Voting Systems has no business connection to Sequoia Capital,” the company said in a statement to the AP. “Any claims about a business or financial relationship between Dominion Voting Systems and Sequoia Capital are completely false.” The claim seems to conflate Sequoia with an unrelated entity: Dominion purchased the assets of a company called Sequoia Voting Systems in 2010. Court records show Sequoia Voting Systems’ parent company filed for bankruptcy that year.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in New Jersey contributed this report.


A viral Facebook hoax is falsely claiming that a serial killer is on the loose in various US cities

CLAIM: A mug shot circulating on social media shows a serial killer who is currently on the loose and is abducting women after hitting their cars with his truck.

THE FACTS: This is a viral hoax that has spread in Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama and elsewhere in the U.S. The mug shot is of Jose Gilberto Rodriguez, a man accused of killing three people over four days in the Houston area in 2018 — but he has been in a detention facility awaiting trial since then and remains behind bars, officials in Harris County, Texas, confirmed this week. “There’s a serial killer or abductor who is currently hunting in Putnam, my friend was almost taken by him,” reads a post that appeared in a Putnam, Indiana-area Facebook group, along with Rodriguez’s mug shot. “He drives a truck with led lights and hits Cars of women alone and once they pull over he takes them. Multiple disappearances. If you are in the area and you are hit by a truck with led lights keep driving and call the cops. Please Stay safe.” Tom Sutherlin, chief deputy at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, said that he is not aware of any active investigations of a serial killer in the area or of someone who is a danger to the community. A reverse image search of the mug shot shows it matches one that appeared in news articles about Rodriguez’s arrest in July 2018. John Donnelly, a spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s office, confirmed to the AP that Rodriguez is the man in the booking photo circulating online. Senior Deputy Thomas Gilliland, a public information officer at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, said Rodriguez is being held in an area detention facility while awaiting trial. The Amarillo Police Department in Texas said in a Facebook post that the posts with Rodriguez’s mug shot spreading online are part of a scam that is meant to “cause panic and alarm.” As the AP reported, Rodriguez is accused of killing three people in Houston over a period of four days in July 2018 — a 62-year-old woman found dead at her home, as well as 28-year-old and a 57-year-old who worked at two different mattress stores. He was arrested the same month, after he violated his parole prior to the fatal shootings. His trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 22, 2024, Donnelly said.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.


Video of Biden on MSNBC was altered to make it appear like he struggled to speak for a full minute

CLAIM: Video shows President Joe Biden struggling to speak for a whole minute as he stumbles over his words in an interview with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC.

THE FACTS: Footage of a 20-minute interview with Biden on the network in June has been edited down to only show moments where Biden briefly faltered in his speech. Biden gave a rare televised interview to MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” in June, where he discussed topics including the Supreme Court and his reelection campaign. But over a month later, social media users are sharing an altered clip from the appearance that makes it appear that the president spoke incoherently for more than a minute. The clip, circulating on Instagram, shows Wallace introducing Biden, and the president then appears to fumble in his response, failing to complete his thoughts and a full sentence. “I just find it. I don’t know how to express it,” Biden says, before various clips of him stuttering on words such as “I” and “and,” interspersed by footage of Wallace nodding. However, the video is not an accurate depiction of the interview. The full interview, which can be seen on MSNBC’s YouTube channel, doesn’t show Biden struggling to speak for a minute straight. The video takes sections of the far longer interview where Biden — who has been fighting a stutter since childhood — trips over or repeats a word, and strings these moments into one short clip. MSNBC did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.

— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.


Video of a beach party in Kyiv is being used to raise doubt around the war in Ukraine

CLAIM: A video showing a beach club in Kyiv proves the war in Ukraine is “fake.”

THE FACTS: The video does show partygoers at a beach club in Kyiv, but it doesn’t prove the war is fictitious. The front line of the war is in the eastern part of the country, far from Ukraine’s capital city. But that has not spared the Kyiv, which has regularly been attacked by Russia with missiles and drones. Social media users are sharing the video of young people partying by a pool to downplay the impact of Russia’s invasion. “The war in Ukraine is FAKE,” reads a post sharing the video on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The video was originally posted Sunday on TikTok by a user who confirmed to the AP that he took the video but did not provide his full name. He also posted on X when he realized his video was being used to misrepresent the situation around the war. “I am the original author that made this video on my TikTok page and I am only showing that people in Ukraine can live a normal life thanks to all the air defense systems that we have received from USA, Germany etc,” reads the post on X. He also posted a new video on TikTok, saying he wanted to show that in times of war people can still live and have the “ability to enjoy life.” The original video was taken at Fifty Beach Club in Kyiv. Multiple Instagram accounts that shared photos and tagged the club match the location of the pool in the video. While removed from the worst of the fighting, Kyiv has not been spared. For example, Ukrainian officials said their air defenses shot down 20 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia mostly at the Kyiv region in July. Wreckage fell on four districts of the capital, wounding two people and destroying several homes. In May, Russia launched dozens of drones and missiles at the city almost every night, forcing residents to spend the night in shelters. Other cities have come under attack as well. Russian ballistic missiles slammed into an apartment complex and a university building in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown on July 31, killing six people and wounding 75 others as the blasts trapped residents beneath rubble, Ukrainian officials said. The dead included a 10-year-old girl and her mother, according to Zelenskyy. Closer to the fighting, Ukrainian authorities on Thursday ordered a mandatory evacuation of nearly 12,000 civilians from 37 towns and villages in the eastern Kharkiv region, which is more than 400 kilometers away from Kyiv. The U.S. has sent money to Ukraine, and this Thursday the AP reported that Biden plans to ask Congress to provide more than $13 billion in emergency aid to the country to help sustain its ongoing counteroffensive.

— Karena Phan

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