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:
Ukrainian family killed in Russian attack, despite denials
CLAIM: Grave markers for a Ukrainian family that say they died on March 9 in Izium prove they were not killed by Russian forces, because Russian troops did not enter the Ukrainian city until weeks later.
THE FACTS: The Ukrainian city of Izium was being heavily bombarded by Russian forces on March 9 and the family was killed in the attack, according to people with direct knowledge of the attack on the high-rise building where the family lived, as well as reports from humanitarian groups and Ukrainian officials who documented the destruction. After Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass grave in Izium this month, social media accounts for the Russian embassy in South Africa openly questioned whether one of the families buried at the site had been truly killed in a Russian offensive on the northeastern city. On its social media accounts, the embassy shared a screenshot of a tweet by Andrii Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, featuring a photo of the Stolpakov family's grave site. The simple wooden crosses, found in a wooded area among scores of others, mark the date of their deaths as March 9, 2022. "The Russians are killing entire Ukrainian families," Yermak had tweeted. "Izyum. Olesya, 6 years old. Murdered by the Russian uniformed terrorists. Her parents are buried nearby." The Russian embassy in its posts falsely claimed that the family could not have been killed by Russian troops, because they were not in the area at the time. But Russian forces did carry out several strikes on Izium on March 9, including one that destroyed a high rise on the east bank of the Severodonetsk River, according to a dozen people with direct knowledge that AP journalists have spoken to in recent days. A woman who previously lived in the building and whose mother died in the blast told the AP the Stolpakovs lived in the high rise and were among those killed. Tetiana Pryvalikhina, a 40-year-old who now lives in Kladno in the Czech Republic with her daughter, said in messages on Instagram written in Ukrainian that many of the bodies couldn't be removed until about a month after the attack, making identification difficult. Izium's deputy mayor Volodymyr Matsokin told the AP that about 50 people died in the attack, including the Stolpakov family. Matsokin was among those who posted numerous photos and videos of the destroyed city on social media during those weeks. Ukrainian news outlets also reported that the family died in the March 9 attack, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said in a Sept. 17 tweet that they died in an aerial attack on their home that day. Denis Krivosheev, a deputy director at Amnesty International, called the Russian embassy's comment "totally disingenuous." While it's true that Russian forces did not establish full control of Izium until much later, they were clearly heavily shelling the city at the time the family was killed, he said. "The timing totally fits: our respondents were telling us about events at the time including on and close to 9 March," he said in an email. George Barros, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based group that's been tracking major developments in the war, agreed. "There is ample documentation of Russian indirect fire against civilian infrastructure in Izyum since at least March 3, several days before Russian forces occupied Izyum," he wrote in an email Monday. During a media briefing on Thursday, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, repeated claims that Russian forces weren't responsible for the March 9 deaths.
- Associated Press writers Philip Marcelo and Beatrice DuPuy in New York, Lori Hinnant in Ukraine and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.
Biden's 2021 comments on hurricane preparedness misrepresented
CLAIM: President Joe Biden called for people in Florida to prepare for Hurricane Ian by getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting an August 2021 video in which Biden urged people in hurricane-prone states to get vaccinated in case they needed to evacuate or stay in a shelter. As Hurricane Ian on Tuesday approached the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people had been ordered to evacuate, the out-of-context clip of Biden spread widely on social media. "If you're in a state where hurricanes often strike, like Florida or the Gulf Coast or into Texas, a vital part of preparing for hurricane season is to get vaccinated now," Biden says in the video clip. "Everything is more complicated if you're not vaccinated and a hurricane or a natural disaster hits." Some social media users who shared the clip suggested that Biden's comments were in reference to Hurricane Ian's expected landfall in Florida. "Protect yourself from incoming hurricanes by getting vaccinated... right now!" wrote a Twitter user who shared the video on Tuesday. But the video is from Aug. 10, 2021. Biden made the comments prior to a White House briefing from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and other officials about how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting hurricane preparedness. But he didn't say getting vaccinated would protect against hurricanes. In the full video, Biden discussed what he described as the upcoming "peak" hurricane season in the Atlantic region coinciding with the pandemic. "If you wind up having to evacuate, if you wind up having to stay in a shelter, you don't want to add COVID-19 to the list of dangers that you're going to be confronting," Biden said in the video, later adding: "We can't prevent hurricanes making landfall, but we can prevent people from getting seriously sick and dying from COVID-19." Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, leaving destruction in its wake.
Analysts: China flight cancellations follow normal pattern
CLAIM: There was no flight movement over China as more than 9,000 flights were canceled across the country in a single day last week.
THE FACTS: While flight tracking estimates show that thousands of flights were canceled on several days last week, this remains consistent with the high cancellation rates the country has experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple experts told the AP that last week's air patterns weren't unusual. As baseless claims of a military coup in China spread online recently, social media users asserted that air traffic data showing more than 9,000 flights canceled across the country on a single day was proof that planes were being grounded amid turmoil in the country. "Absolutely no flight movement over China," wrote one Twitter user on Sept. 24 while posting an image of the global flight tracking service FlightRadar24 that showed a handful of planes crossing the country. Others claimed that about 9,500 flights were canceled across China on Sept. 21, accounting for nearly 60% of flights that day. But experts say these numbers, as well as some images from flight tracking services, are being presented out of context. Ian Petchenik, director of communications for FlightRadar24, said the images appearing to capture the service's dashboard over the weekend were likely taken during overnight hours of low flight traffic in China. He added that they also may reflect the fact that FlightRadar24's display can only show so many flights on screen at a time, meaning if a user zooms out far enough, the number of flights in an area will seemingly disappear. Further, China's population is not evenly distributed across the country. Because flight density varies greatly depending on the region, some areas are left looking sparse while other areas are more heavily trafficked. "If you're not understanding what you're looking at or you're purposefully misrepresenting what you're seeing, that becomes an unfortunate byproduct," Petchenik said. FlightRadar24 data shows that just over 6,000 out of nearly 15,000 flights were canceled on Sept. 21, which Petchenik said falls in line with the high level of daily cancellations that China has recorded for more than two years. While airlines in the U.S., Europe and Australia, among others, reduced the number of scheduled flights in their flight programs amid the pandemic, many Chinese airlines opted not to remove any scheduled flights, instead canceling a large number of flights on a daily basis, Petchenik told the AP. "In no way is this surprising, concerning, suspenseful or anything," he said. FlightRadar24 data also shows that the three Wednesdays preceding Sept. 21 all also logged more than 5,000 canceled flights. FlightAware, another major flight tracking data company, confirmed to the AP in a statement that its data listed more than 8,000 scheduled flights across China on Sept. 21, nearly 2,000 of which were canceled. Spokesperson Kathleen Bangs confirmed that the cancellations reflected normal air traffic patterns in China. "It's not uncommon, in fact, it's pretty much business as usual that we see very high cancellations out of China out of a number of major airports every day," Bangs added. Cirium, an aviation analytics firm, also told the AP in a statement that Cirium found that the rate of flight cancellations in China on Sept. 21 was "very similar to other recent days." Social media users spread the false claims of a military coup weeks before China's ruling Communist Party is set to hold a key congress at which leader Xi Jinping is expected to be granted a third five-year term. But Xi reappeared on state television Tuesday after a several-day absence from public view. He was shown visiting a display at the Beijing Exhibition Hall, his first appearance since he returned from a regional summit in Uzbekistan last weekend. Under Chinese pandemic regulations, he would need to stay in quarantine for a week after returning.
- Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.
Video of EU flag removal in Italy is from 2013, not 2022
CLAIM: Video shows Italians taking down the European Union flag and replacing it with Italy's flag after a right-wing group, Brothers of Italy, won its national election.
THE FACTS: The video, filmed on Dec. 14, 2013, in Rome, shows a member of a neo-fascist group tearing down the E.U. flag, not Italians demonstrating after the election this week. Following the victory of a party with neo-fascist roots in the country's national election on Monday, social media users are sharing a nearly 10-year-old video to falsely claim it shows a crowd's reaction to what is set to be Italy's first far-right-led government since World War II. The video shows a man climbing up a ladder to a balcony to remove the E.U. flag, displayed outside the E.U. Commission office in Rome. A crowd of people chant and wave Italian flags before police break up the group. "EU Flag Ripped Down as Right-Wing Party sweeps Italian elections," an Instagram post, which features a screenshot of the video states. But the video was filmed and uploaded to YouTube on Dec. 14, 2013. It shows a member of CasaPound, a neo-fascist group, removing the flag. CasaPound said in a statement on its website on Dec. 14, 2013, that its then-vice president, Simone Di Stefano, had been arrested for taking the E.U. flag. The group stated that Di Stefano wanted to replace the E.U. flag with the tricolor flag to protest Italian involvement in the international organization. While it's not immediately clear who first filmed the video, dozens of local news outlets picked up the footage and reposted it that year. CasaPound also used a still frame from the same footage in its statement about the event, showing a man in a red, white and green mask and black jacket holding the blue E.U. flag from a balcony of the commission office. The group shared the video on its YouTube page, with the caption in Italian: "CasaPound blitz at European Union headquarters - flag stolen, police charges - December 14, 2013." On Monday, Brothers of Italy won the most votes in Italy's national election, making Giorgia Meloni the country's first woman premier, the AP reported. Italy's move to the far right places a eurosceptic party in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy.
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