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:


The CDC didn’t say vaccinated people are more at risk of a new COVID variant than the unvaccinated

CLAIM: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a new COVID-19 variant is more contagious among vaccinated people than those who are unvaccinated.

THE FACTS: In a risk assessment summary published Aug. 23, the CDC wrote that the BA.2.86 variant may be more likely to infect people with existing immunity to COVID-19, either from vaccinations or prior infections, than previous variants. It did not say that vaccinated people are at a higher risk than the unvaccinated. “BREAKING: CDC says new COVID variant is more contagious among vaccinated people than those unvaccinated,” reads a post shared on Instagram and X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. But the agency has not said that those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are more likely than unvaccinated people by the new variant. Rather, it said those who’ve been vaccinated or previously infected may be more susceptible than they were to prior variants. “Based on what CDC knows now, the large number of mutations in this new variant raises concern that BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines,” the agency said in a statement, bolding the word “or.” Those making the false claim are misrepresenting the CDC’s Aug. 23 risk assessment for the variant, which said: “BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines.” It elaborated near the end of the assessment that “the large number of mutations in this variant raises concerns of greater escape from existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections compared with other recent variants.” In its statement, the agency said that it is still closely monitoring the variant but that it is “too soon to know the real-world impacts on immunity” and encouraged people to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines.

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


Biden didn’t get segregationist Thurmond to vote for the Civil Rights Act. White House says he misspoke

CLAIM: President Joe Biden “literally” convinced segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond to vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act.

THE FACTS: Biden had not yet been elected to the U.S. Senate when the landmark law was passed in 1964, and Thurmond was among the prominent southern Democrats to vote against the bill. A White House spokesperson confirmed the president misspoke in his remarks. Biden made the claim during a White House event Monday. In a clip widely shared on social media, Biden noted that a racist white gunman killed three Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday, the same day the nation marked the 60th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. “I thought things had changed. I was able — literally, not figuratively — to talk Strom Thurmond into voting for the Civil Rights Act before he died. And I thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s real progress’,” Biden said, according to the official White House transcript. “But hate never dies.” Many social media users quickly noted that Biden’s timeline didn’t add up. When Congress approved the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Biden was still nine years away from being sworn in as one of the youngest senators in U.S. history in 1973 at the age of 30. His time in the Senate certainly overlapped with Thurmond, who served as U.S. senator from South Carolina for nearly half a century, from 1954 to 2003. But the Democrat-turned-Republican was a staunch supporter of racial segregation and voted against the original Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion and gender. White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Biden had intended to tout his work in the 1980s to win passage of a bill reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. The landmark 1965 law followed the Civil Rights Act and outlawed discriminatory voting practices such as literacy tests that were aimed at disenfranchising Black voters. “He was highlighting his role in gaining Sen. Thurmond’s support for reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, which Thurmond had previously opposed,” Bates explained in an email. The White House spokesman cited news coverage from the era in which Thurmond, the then-Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, threatened to eliminate parts of the 1965 law. Biden, as the ranking Democrat on the committee, promised at the time that he wouldn’t back down. “If Strom Thurmond is serious about eliminating the Voting Rights Act, I’m going to fight it,” he said, according to a Wilmington News Journal story from 1980. The legislation ultimately passed the Senate in 1982 by a wide margin. Thurmond, who died in 2003 at the age of 100, was among the Republicans who voted for it.

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.


No, a meat allergy caused by ticks is not tied to a Gates Foundation-funded program. Here’s why

CLAIM: Increased incidence of a meat allergy linked to tick spit in the U.S. is connected to a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that involves genetically modifying cattle ticks.

THE FACTS: The program to create a modified cattle tick, with the goal of reducing their population and protecting livestock, has thus far been limited to lab work in the U.K. The ticks in question have been largely eradicated in the U.S. and do not bite humans, an expert said. But social media posts are baselessly tying that work to recently published government research estimating that hundreds of thousands of Americans may have an allergy to red meat because of a syndrome triggered by tick bites. The reaction, called alpha-gal syndrome, occurs when an infected person consumes beef, pork, venison or other mammal products. It’s caused by a sugar in meat from mammals — and in tick spit — that, when transmitted through the skin via a tick bite, can lead to an allergic reaction. “Bill Gates Funded Research Into Genetically Engineered Cattle Ticks—Now 450,000 Americans Have Red Meat Allergies From ‘Alpha-Gal Syndrome’ Caused by Tick Bites,” reads one widespread headline. However, a relationship between the two is “scientifically impossible,” said Neil Morrison, chief strategy officer at Oxitec, the firm doing the research that has indeed received support from the Gates Foundation. “Oxitec’s early R&D has been conducted in the UK,” Morrison said in an email statement. He added that the research has been conducted in labs and that there has been “no research in the field with a self-limiting (modified) tick.” Oxitec’s focus is on the Asian blue tick, or Rhipicephalus microplus, and using a self-limiting gene to reduce their population to better protect livestock and curb economic losses associated with tick bites and disease. Such ticks, while posing issues in other parts of the world, have been largely eradicated in most of the U.S. Moreover, cattle ticks don’t bite humans, said Sam Telford, a Tufts University professor of infectious disease and global health who has worked on ticks and tickborne infections for more than 35 years. Ticks are adapted to feeding on certain animals, Telford explained, and cattle ticks feed on cattle and related animals, such as deer. They do not identify humans as their hosts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Kate Fowlie said in an email that the evidence “strongly suggests” that alpha-gal syndrome is primarily associated with the bite of the Lone Star tick, or Amblyomma americanum, in the U.S. — even if some other native species of ticks have not been ruled out. Researchers first published a paper tying alpha-gal syndrome to tick bites in 2011. That was a decade before the Gates Foundation funded Oxitec’s program on self-limiting cattle ticks. The foundation first announced in 2021 that it was providing Oxitec nearly $1.5 million for an initial feasibility project. In April, the foundation announced it was granting the company another $4.8 million to further develop the program.

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


Social media videos push baseless conspiracy theory that blue items were spared from Maui wildfires

CLAIM: Only blue items survived the Maui wildfires and lasers do not impact that color, suggesting the island was actually hit by a directed energy weapon “attack.”

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