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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Falsehoods Follow George Floyd’s Death

Cities across the country erupted in protests and riots after George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.

The incident was captured on cellphone video that showed Floyd repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The four involved officers were fired the following day, and Derek Chauvin, the officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, was charged on May 29 with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On June 3, he was further charged with second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony.

Also on June 3, the three other officers were each charged with aiding and abetting unintentional second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Some social media posts have responded to this unfolding story, though, by pushing misinformation and conspiracy theories.

These are some of the bogus claims we’ve debunked so far:

  • Politically charged social media posts wrongly identified Chauvin as being in two photos — one showing a man wearing a red hat emblazoned with the words “Make Whites Great Again,” and another showing a man at a rally for President Donald Trump. Neither picture actually showed Chauvin.

See “Viral Photos Don’t Show Minneapolis Officer in Floyd Case” for more.

  • Social media posts incorrectly claimed that Minneapolis police license plates “dont say POLICE,” so the presence of a police vehicle bearing such a plate in the video proved Floyd’s death was a planned event. But many police vehicles in Minneapolis have that license plate.

See “Minneapolis Police License Plate Doesn’t Raise a ‘False Flag’” for more.

  • Lengthy text posts claimed that Floyd’s arrest and death in Minneapolis were “staged” to incite “racial tensions.” But they offer no evidence to support that conspiracy theory.

See “Baseless Conspiracy Theory Claims Floyd Case Was ‘Staged’” for more.

  • A website whose domain is registered in Kenya falsely claimed in a May 31 story that Chauvin committed suicide while in prison, citing supposed “U.S media” reports. But there were no such credible reports.

See “Officer Charged in Floyd’s Death Hasn’t Committed Suicide” for more.

  • Contrary to social media posts, Kellie Chauvin, the estranged wife of Derek Chauvin, is not the sister of Tou Thao, another former officer involved in the events that led to Floyd’s death, according to Kellie Chauvin’s lawyer.

See “Two Former Officers Involved in Floyd’s Death Are Not In-Laws” for more.

  • During protests sparked by Floyd’s death, a tweet shared widely online that espoused bringing violence to “residential areas… the white hoods” was made to appear to be from antifa, the anti-fascist coalition. But the account behind the tweet was actually linked to a white nationalist group, according to Twitter.

See “Viral Tweet ‘Alert’ Wasn’t From Antifa” for more.

  • A Facebook post claimed protesters were “destroying the cemeteries” of veterans. But three of the four images used in the post are old and have nothing to do with the current protests.

See “Post on Floyd Protests Uses Old Vandalism Photos” for more.

  • Across social media, posts falsely claimed to show a picture of the White House in the dark — purportedly “for the first time” in history — as protesters marched outside on May 31. But the image is actually from 2014 and was edited to appear darker.

See “Viral Posts Share Old, Edited White House Photo in Dark” for more. 

  • Some social media posts misleadingly suggested that piles of bricks are being staged ahead of the protests over Floyd’s death to incite violence. We reviewed five posts and found no evidence of staging. In many cases, the bricks had been delivered for construction projects, or had been at the sites for some time.

See “Bricks Were Placed for Construction, Not to Incite Violence” for more.

  • Video clips of Trump pretending to choke while saying “I can’t breathe” circulated with the misleading suggestion that he was mocking Floyd. But the videos predated Floyd’s death and showed the president mocking his political rivals — not Floyd.

See “Video of Trump’s ‘Choke’ Quote Refers to Political Rivals” for more.

  • Social media posts erroneously claimed that the “SAME DOCTOR” performed the autopsies on “JFK, MLK, Epstein, AND George Floyd.” The doctor referenced, pathologist Michael Baden, has connections to those four cases — but he only performed an autopsy on Floyd, as a secondary examination for Floyd’s family.

See “Posts Distort Facts on Floyd Pathologist’s Role in Past Cases” for more.

  • A conspiracy theory that Martin Gugino — the 75-year-old man who was hospitalized after being pushed by police during a protest in New York — was an “ANTIFA provocateur” trying to “black out” police equipment got widespread attention after Trump tweeted about it. There is no evidence to support either part of the claim, though.

See “Trump Tweets Baseless Claims About Injured Buffalo Protester” for more.

  • A meme spread a doctored image of the Lincoln Memorial covered in graffiti to falsely claim that protesters defaced the Lincoln statue. The image was created as a graphic for a video on the conservative website the Daily Wire but shared as if real.

See “Statue in Lincoln Memorial Was Not Defaced by Protesters” for more.

  • False claims that nearly everyone involved in Floyd’s death — including Floyd — were “crisis actors” spread widely online. But the pictures that supposedly prove this theory actually show unrelated people.

See “Bogus Claims of ‘Crisis Actors’ in Death of George Floyd” for more.

  • A tweet suggesting a conspiratorial “pattern” — from the protests over Floyd’s death, to the pandemic, to the presidential impeachment, to the 2016 election — was falsely attributed to former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The tweet is actually from an unverified Twitter account that misspelled her name.

See “Sarah Huckabee Sanders Did Not Post Conspiratorial Tweet” for more.

  • A conspiracy theory on Facebook falsely claimed that the killing of George Floyd was “filmed before covid19” because “[n]ot a single person is wearing a mask” in the videos. Some of the officers and officials in the videos can clearly be seen wearing masks.

See “Conspiracy Theory on Floyd’s Death Disproved by Footage” for more.

  • A meme misrepresented a 2007 criminal case in Houston involving Floyd. The meme distorted the details of Floyd’s case and included a photo of a woman who was badly injured in an unrelated attack in Spain in 2018.

See “Meme Spreads Wrong Photo, Details in Floyd Criminal Case” for more.

  • Headlines on social media misleadingly suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi violated a military tradition when she gave a folded flag to Floyd’s brother. A folded flag is not “Reserved Only For Fallen Veterans,” as one headline claimed. Members of Congress routinely present flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol as gifts.

See “Gifting a Folded Flag Isn’t ‘Only For Fallen Veterans’” for more.

Update, June 19: We updated this post to make note of an additional story. We’ll continue to add to this coverage as necessary.