Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro criticized the Biden administration’s decision to forgive some student loan debt. Liberal social media accounts then falsely claimed Shapiro had received a loan of about $20,000 that had been forgiven as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Two other people with the same name had received PPP loans.
President Joe Biden announced on Aug. 24 that federal student loan borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year could have up to $10,000 of their debt cancelled (and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients).
As many Republican politicians and conservative influencers posted comments critical of the plan, liberals started responding with posts pointing out how much some of those critics had been forgiven in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
The White House Twitter account even joined in with its highest engagement thread so far, starting with a tweet noting that the business owned by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her husband had $183,504 in PPP loans and interest forgiven.
It is worth noting that Congress designed PPP loans — which were established in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — to be forgiven in order to help small businesses meet payroll during the pandemic, while student loans are provided with expectation of repayment.
One person who criticized the student debt forgiveness plan appears to have been wrongly targeted by opponents, though.
Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator, tweeted on Aug. 23: “I have a controversial idea about paying off student loan debt: don’t take out debt you will likely be unable to pay off, and don’t ask others to pay off your debts.”
The suggestions were made with screenshots that appear to have come from ProPublica’s searchable database of PPP recipients, which shows that someone named Ben Shapiro received a loan for $20,832 in 2021.
But that person is listed as being a realtor in Los Angeles, and there is only one person by that name who is licensed to sell real estate in Los Angeles. He’s not the same Ben Shapiro who works as a political commentator. While the political commentator did grow up in Los Angeles and lived there for most of his life, he left in 2020 and moved to Florida.
Another database of PPP recipients run by a watchdog organization called Accountable.Us shows a PPP loan of the same amount going to yet a different Ben Shapiro — a real estate agent in New Jersey — in 2020.
Neither of the real estate agents who have the same name as the political commentator returned our calls for comment.
Also, neither of the databases showed PPP loans going to Ben Shapiro, the political commentator, or to the business of which he’s a partial owner, the Daily Wire, or to the Daily Wire’s parent company, Bentkey Ventures.
The Daily Wire didn’t respond to our email asking to clarify whether or not any of Shapiro’s associated businesses had PPP loans.
But Shapiro did address the claim that attributed the ProPublica screenshot to him on Twitter, saying: “This is a lie.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
White House. “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most.” 24 Aug 2022.
Biden, Joe (@JoeBiden). “Additionally, we should forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans, as proposed by Senator Warren and colleagues. Young people and other student debt holders bore the brunt of the last crisis. It shouldn’t happen again.” 4/6. Twitter. 22 Mar 2020.
Biden, Joe. “Joe Biden Outlines New Steps to Ease Economic Burden on Working People.” Medium. 9 Apr 2020.
The White House (@WhiteHouse). “Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.” 1/6. Twitter. 25 Aug 2022.
CARES Act. Pub. L. 116-136. 27 Mar 2020.
Shapiro, Ben (@benshapiro). “I have a controversial idea about paying off student loan debt: don’t take out debt you will likely be unable to pay off, and don’t ask others to pay off your debts.” Twitter. 23 Aug 2022.
ProPublica. Tracking PPP. Entry for Ben Shapiro. Accessed 25 Aug 2022.
State of California Department of Real Estate. License: Shapiro, Benjamin. Accessed 29 Aug 2022.
Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. Bentkey Ventures, LLC. Accessed 29 Aug 2022.
Shapiro, Ben (@benshapiro). “The internet is a place filled with stupid and dishonest people. So, for example, http://TruthOrFiction.com — and half the Left-wing blue checks — are saying I took PPP money. This is a lie. Here is their supposed proof via ProPublica:” 1/3. Twitter. 24 Aug 2022.