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News / Nation & World

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

Social media users shared a range of false claims this week

By MELISSA GOLDIN, , Associated Press,
Published: April 5, 2024, 8:57am

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.

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CLAIM: Social Security Administration data shows the number of voters registering without a photo ID is skyrocketing in three key swing states, evidence that migrants who entered the country illegally are registering to vote in Arizona, Texas and Pennsylvania.

THE FACTS: Election officials in all three states said the information being shared is incorrect. In fact, recent voter registrations in those states are well below the numbers being cited online.

The posts are misrepresenting data from the SSA’s Help America Vote Verification system, which tracks requests by states to verify the identity of individuals who registered to vote using the last four digits of their social security number. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections and noncitizen voting is exceedingly rare, as states have processes to prevent it.

“The number of voters registering without a photo ID is SKYROCKETING IN 3 key swing states: Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania,” reads one X post, citing data from the SSA to claim that there have been 220,731 such registrations in Arizona; 1,250,710 in Texas; and 580,513 in Pennsylvania.

The post continues: “HAVV allows voters to register with a Social Security Number (4 digits). Illegals are not able to get licenses there. But they can get Social Security cards (for work authorization permits).” HAVV is the SSA’s Help America Vote Verification system.

Others alleged outright that this data is proof that Democrats are rigging elections.

“Democrats are letting illegal immigrants through the border and registering them to vote using only their social security number,” a man says in a TikTok video shared on X, citing similar numbers. “This is how Democrats plan to stay in power.

But these claims misrepresent what the SSA data shows.

“This again appears to be an example of people who don’t understand how elections work misinterpreting data — perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally — to create a false impression and inflate the potential for voter fraud,” David Becker, the founder and executive director of The Center for Election Innovation and Research, told The Associated Press.

The numbers being identified as individual voter registrations in Arizona, Texas and Pennsylvania are referencing the total number of requests states made to the SSA to verify voters’ identities from Dec. 31 to March 23.

Election officials in the three states noted that actual voter registration applications during that time period were much lower than the numbers being shared online.

Maricopa County, which makes up approximately 60% of Arizona’s voting population, has had 39,653 new registrants since the beginning of 2024, according to county recorder Stephen Richer. This is far below the 220,731 said to have registered with no photo ID.

In Texas, officials said in a statement that 57,711 people have registered to vote in Texas since the start of 2024, far fewer than the 1.25 million cited online and the number of people registered in the same period in 2022 and 2020. The state currently has approximately 17.9 million registered voters.

As of April 4, there had been more than 75,000 new voter registrations in Pennsylvania, not more than 580,000, according to Matt Heckel, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State. There were approximately 8.7 million registered voters in the state on Monday.

Individuals in most states register to vote with either their driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their social security number. States use the first two options to verify the individual’s identity with their department of motor vehicles. This accounts for “the vast majority” of voters, according to Becker. A voter’s identity can be verified using the third option through the SSA’s HAVV system.

All verification requests for which the name, date of birth and last four digits of an SSN match with at least one SSA record are recorded by the agency under a “total matches” category.

HAVV requests are made for voters who are registering for the first time, but also if a voter submits an application after they move to a new state, or even within the same state, Becker said.

Officials in Arizona, Texas and Pennsylvania all confirmed that the number of transactions in the HAVV system does not represent what posts online are claiming it does.

“It is 100% false that there are 220,731 new registrants in Arizona since January 1, 2024 of suspect citizenship,” Richer told the AP.

Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson wrote in a statement that “it is totally inaccurate that 1.2 million voters have registered to vote in Texas without a photo ID this year.”

Heckel told the AP that the HAVV data being cited on social media only represents the raw number of verification requests Pennsylvania counties make to the SSA, adding that “the data does not represent the numbers of newly registered voters, and any representation that they do is false.”

Heckel said that for Pennsylvania “in many cases, the same voter’s partial SSN is being checked more than once in a single year” and that the state makes HAVV requests for absentee and mail ballot applications in addition to voter registrations. This means that verification requests do not necessarily correspond one-to-one with people registering to vote.

2010 audit report published by the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General found that 32% of verification requests in 2008 — 2.4 million out of 7.7 million total — were for voters whose information had already been verified that year. In 2009, re-submissions constituted 20% of verification requests — 1.4 million out of 7.2 million.

Ohio, for example, in 2008 “submitted the same voter information 1,778 times during the year for a 77-year-old man who died in December 2005.” The submissions were made over an 11-day period, ranging from 1 to 278 verification requests per day. The same voter’s information was submitted by Ohio 13,824 times in 2009.

Federal law bans noncitizens from voting in federal elections, including races for president, vice president, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The 1996 law states that noncitizens who vote illegally will face a fine, imprisonment or both. Noncitizens who cast a ballot and get caught may also face deportation.

Voters are not required to provide proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. However, they must confirm under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens.

In Arizona, however, voters must prove they are citizens to cast a ballot in state and local races. If they do not provide proof, they are considered “federal only” voters. There are only 20,768 such voters in Maricopa County, according to Richer, out of more than 2.3 million active registered voters. He wrote in a post on X that the entire state only has about 30,000.

Arizona is currently the only state that enforces such a requirement. Voting Rights Lab, a nonprofit that tracks election-related legislation, reported last month that 11 other states are considering legislation that would require proof of citizenship to vote in state or local elections.

Federal law doesn’t stop states or municipalities from granting noncitizens the right to vote in local races — and a handful have, including 11 towns in Maryland and two in Vermont. Several states ban the practice.

Investigations show that noncitizen voting is exceedingly rare. For example, a Georgia audit of its voter rolls conducted in 2022 found fewer than 2,000 instances of noncitizens attempting to register to vote over the last 25 years, none of which succeeded. Millions of new Georgia voters registered during that time period.

Noncitizens may be eligible to receive a social security number if they are authorized to work in the U.S. or if they need one for another valid reason, such as to receive a certain benefit or service. But federal law requires states to regularly maintain their voter rolls and remove anyone ineligible, a process that identifies immigrants living in the country illegally in addition to other state-level vetting processes.

“It’s really unfortunate that there’s so many people who are trying to sow doubt into our elections process,” Aaron Thacker, a spokesperson for Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, told the AP in response to the claims spreading online.

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CLAIM: Israel said that the deaths of seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip Monday night were caused by a roadside bomb planted by Hamas.

THE FACTS: No Israeli officials have publicly made such a statement. An X account impersonating the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad wrote soon after news of the incident broke that it appeared to have been caused “by a side bomb planted by Hamas.”

The Israeli military said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the deaths “occurred as a result of an IDF strike.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that the country’s forces had carried out an “unintended strike” in Gaza.

Following the Israeli airstrikes that killed the World Central Kitchen workers and led the charity to suspend delivery of vital food aid to Gaza, social media users claimed that Israel had blamed Hamas for the incident.

“‘A Hamas roadside bomb killed the aid workers —Israel,’” reads one X post that had received approximately 7,900 likes and more than 3,400 shares as of Tuesday. “I’ve never known a roadside bomb to jump onto the windscreen of a vehicle clearly marked as aid workers. It’s incredible Hamas can do this without any air strike capacity. (They’re mocking us).”

Many posts included footage of a vehicle with a large hole going through the World Central Kitchen logo on its roof, printed there so that the vehicle could be identified from the air.

But no Israeli officials have publicly said that a roadside bomb planted by Hamas killed the aid workers.

An X account called “Mossad Commentary,” which impersonates Israel’s intelligence agency, made such a claim in a post on Monday at 3:49 a.m. Israel time.

“The IDF is investigating an incident in which 5 foreign aid workers were killed in Gaza which appears to be by a side bomb planted by Hamas for our forces in Deir al-Balah,” it reads.

Mossad Commentary, which uses Mossad’s logo as its profile picture, is not affiliated with the Israeli intelligence agency and has previously made false claims about the Jewish state. For example, a post from October 2023 states that Yemen had “officially” declared war on Israel. The AP reported at the time that Yemen’s internationally recognized government had done no such thing.

Mossad’s website links to its official X account, which is called in Hebrew “The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks.” Its most recent post is from September 2020.

The Israeli military told the AP in February that Mossad Commentary is “clearly not an official account.” Mossad Commentary did not respond to a message from the AP on X sent after the World Central Kitchen strikes.

Prior to Mossad Commentary’s post, the Israeli military wrote on Telegram at 1:34 a.m. local time Monday that “following the reports regarding the World Central Kitchen personnel in Gaza today, the IDF is conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

The military said in a statement to the AP Tuesday afternoon that the incident “occurred as a result of an IDF strike.” Around the same time, Netanyahu acknowledged in a statement that “unfortunately, in the last day, there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip.”

World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, said it had coordinated with the Israeli military over the movement of its cars, the AP has reported. Three vehicles moving at large distances apart were hit in succession. They were left incinerated and mangled, indicating multiple targeted strikes.

The dead include three British citizens, Polish and Australia nationals, a Canadian-American dual national and a Palestinian.

World Central Kitchen was key to efforts by the U.S. and other countries to open a maritime corridor for aid from Cyprus to help ease near-starvation conditions in Gaza’s north. Those efforts were threatened when the charity suspended food deliveries Tuesday.

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CLAIM: Biden declared that Easter Sunday is now a holiday celebrating transgender people.

THE FACTS: Transgender Day of Visibility has been celebrated on March 31 since 2009, when the holiday was created. Every year since becoming president, Biden has issued a proclamation around the observance on that date. It was a coincidence in 2024 that the day corresponded with Easter Sunday, which falls on a different date each year.

Nonetheless, social media users shared posts saying that Biden chose March 31 for Transgender Day of Visibility as an affront to Christians. Many Christians oppose greater recognition of trans people as part of their religious beliefs and took offense at the two days being paired, even though it was only a byproduct of the calendar.

“He could pick any day to declare a Transgender day,” reads one X post. “For Joe Biden to select Easter Sunday is a insult to Christians. This was intentional. It was done with the intent to flip the middle finger at Christians. His staff knew exactly what they were doing.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the claims “untrue” at a White House briefing on Monday, saying that the administration was “really so surprised by the misinformation that has been out there around this.”

“Every year for the past several years on March 31 Transgender Day of Visibility is marked. And as we know, for folks who understand the calendar and how it works, Easter falls on different Sundays every year,” she told reporters. And this year it happened to coincide with Transgender Visibility Day. And so that is the simple fact. That is what has happened. That is where we are.”

Following the proclamation, the Trump campaign criticized Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, of being insensitive to religion, and fellow Republicans piled on.

Jean-Pierre said at the briefing that it is “unsurprising” that “politicians are seeking to divide and weaken our country with cruel, hateful and dishonest rhetoric.” She added that Biden “will never abuse his personal faith for political purposes or for profit.”

Biden first issued a proclamation about Transgender Day of Visibility in 2021, about two months after his inauguration. He continued this recognition in 2022 and 2023. Proclamations are generally statements about public policy by the president.

Rachel Crandall-Crocker, the executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Transgender Michigan, organized the first International Transgender Day of Visibility in 2009 to bring attention to a population that is often ignored, disparaged or victimized.

It was designed as a contrast to Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held annually on Nov. 20 to honor the memory of transgender people who were killed in anti-transgender violence. Crandall-Crocker selected March 31 to give the holiday space from the day of remembrance and Pride Month in June, which celebrates all types of LGBTQ+ people.

  • Biden banned religious symbols from a White House Easter egg art contest.

THE FACTS: A flier soliciting children from National Guard families to submit an egg design for a White House exhibit organized in collaboration with the American Egg Board specified that submissions should not include “religious symbols” or “overtly religious themes.”

But such restrictions are nothing new.

“The American Egg Board has been a supporter of the White House Easter Egg Roll for over 45 years and the guideline language referenced in recent news reports has consistently applied to the board since its founding, across administrations,” Emily Metz, its president and CEO, said in a statement.

Elizabeth Alexander, a spokesperson for first lady Jill Biden, similarly wrote in an X post that “the American Egg Board’s flyer’s standard non-discrimination language requesting artwork has been used for the last 45 years, across all Dem & Republican Admins — for all WH Easter Egg Rolls—incl previous Administration’s.”

After the flier spread online, social media users falsely claimed that it was Biden who had decided to prohibit such imagery as part of the contest, which is part of many Easter traditions at the White House, including the annual Easter egg roll.

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“Joe Biden just told all the Easter egg art decorators in the White House that NO RELIGIOUS IMAGERY is allowed,” reads one X post. “He’s just spit in the face of Christ on the cross who died for our sins to lift up the ULTIMATE sinners.”

The American Egg Board is a commodity checkoff program, meaning that it promotes and researches a particular agricultural commodity without referencing specific producers or brands.

All such programs must follow federal guidelines, including prohibitions on religious discrimination. This has been the case since the American Egg Board was established in 1976, according to Metz.

Children from National Guard families submitted egg designs showcasing their lives for the third annual “Colonnade of Eggs” exhibit at the White House, which honors the first lady’s support of military-connected families. Artists brought their designs to life on real eggs.

The American Egg Board has historically presented a commemorative egg to the first lady that reflects her passions, causes and contributions. Since 2022, the board has collaborated with the White House to curate larger exhibits displaying egg art throughout the spring.

Dating to 1878, the first White House Easter egg roll was held by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who agreed to open the White House lawn to children after they were kicked off the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

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