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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Don’t get spun by internet rumors.

Just because you read it on Facebook or somebody’s blog or in an email from a friend or relative doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s probably not, as we advised in our special report “That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously,” on March 18, 2008. More recently, we addressed the problem of bogus “stories” from fake news sites: “How to Spot Fake News,” on Nov. 18, 2016.

On this page, we feature a list of the false or misleading viral rumors we’re asked about most often, and a brief summary of the facts. But click on the links to read the full articles. There is a lot more detail in each answer. If you’re looking for articles about other viral claims, please use our search function.

Conspiracy Theory Baselessly Claims Biden Had Navy SEALs Killed
A viral conspiracy theory spread across social media baselessly claims former Vice President Joe Biden “had SEAL Team 6 killed” as part of a cover-up after a purportedly failed assassination of Osama bin Laden. President Donald Trump shared the unfounded theory on Twitter.
OCt. 15, 2020

Trump Campaign Didn’t Send Email Fundraising Off COVID-19 Diagnosis
An image spreading on social media purports to show a Trump campaign email asking supporters to “please DONATE to help him recover from” COVID-19. It is not from the campaign, and appears to have been created as a joke.
Oct. 2, 2020

No Evidence Biden Was ‘Wearing a Wire’ in Debate
Facebook posts baselessly accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of wearing a wire during the first presidential debate. The low-quality videos and photos being cited don’t support that claim.
Sept. 30, 2020

CDC Did Not ‘Admit Only 6%’ of Recorded Deaths from COVID-19
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t drastically reduced the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19, but posts making that bogus claim have been circulating widely — with the help of President Donald Trump, who retweeted one such claim.
Sept. 1, 2020

Kamala Harris Is Eligible to Serve as President
Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, is eligible to serve as U.S. president, contrary to the false claims of viral posts on Facebook. Her mother is from India and her father from Jamaica — but Harris was born in Oakland, California.
Aug. 11, 2020

Donations to Black Lives Matter Group Don’t Go to DNC
Social media posts falsely claim donations made on the Black Lives Matter website go “directly” to the Democratic party, because the group uses ActBlue Charities — an online fundraising platform. Donations go to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. The funds first pass through a nonprofit that sponsors the group.
June 12, 2020

Bogus Claims of ‘Crisis Actors’ in Death of George Floyd
False claims that nearly everyone involved in George Floyd’s death — including Floyd — are “crisis actors” have spread widely online. But the pictures that supposedly prove this theory actually show unrelated people.
June 12, 2020

Statue in Lincoln Memorial Was Not Defaced by Protesters
A meme is spreading a doctored image of the Lincoln Memorial covered in graffiti to falsely claim that protesters defaced the Lincoln statue. The image was taken from a thumbnail for a video on the conservative website the Daily Wire and shared as if real.
June 9, 2020

The Falsehoods of the ‘Plandemic’ Video
The first installment of a documentary called “Plandemic” stormed through social media this week. But the viral video weaves a grand conspiracy theory by using a host of false and misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic and its origins, vaccines, treatments for COVID-19, and more.
May 8, 2020

CDC Hasn’t ‘Reduced’ COVID-19 Death Toll
Claims on social media have been spreading the falsehood that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention significantly lowered the COVID-19 death toll. There has been no such reduction. These claims confuse two different measures of the number of deaths.
May 6, 2020

Stimulus Checks Won’t Reduce Future Tax Refunds
Social media posts falsely claim that federal payments from the COVID-19 stimulus package could reduce taxpayers’ future refunds. The Internal Revenue Service says the payment “will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return next year.”
April 17, 2020

Kennedy Center Didn’t Contribute to Democrats
Online posts falsely claim that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts donated $5 million to Democrats after it was allocated $25 million in the COVID-19 stimulus package. The center has not given any political contributions; it’s prohibited by law.
April 7, 2020

Does ibuprofen make COVID-19 worse?
There is no evidence that ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can make COVID-19 cases more severe. You should consult your doctor before changing medications.
March 30, 2020

False Claim of Congressional Pay Raises in Stimulus Bill
Facebook posts falsely claim that House Democrats included $25 million to boost their own salaries in their proposal for the coronavirus-related stimulus package. That funding is not for legislators’ pay increases; it’s also in the bill being advanced by the Republican-controlled Senate.
March 25, 2020

Viral Social Media Posts Offer False Coronavirus Tips
Posts are circulating false and misleading tips on social media — in some cases wrongly attributed to Stanford University — about how people can monitor and avoid the coronavirus.
March 12, 2020

Sanders Didn’t Call for 52% Tax on $29,000 Incomes
A viral post claims, falsely, that Sen. Bernie Sanders at a recent debate called for a tax rate of 52% on incomes of $29,000 or more to pay for his Medicare for All plan. He didn’t. That figure was floated as a potential marginal tax rate for income above $10 million.
Feb. 21, 2020

Viral Photo Doesn’t Show Schiff With Whistleblower
Viral posts are spreading a false claim that a photograph shows Rep. Adam Schiff with the “whistleblower.” The photo was posted by Schiff and shows his family and his daughter’s boyfriend — who is a college student, not an intelligence official.
Feb. 4, 2020

Pelosi’s Impeachment Pens Aren’t 18-Karat Gold
Claims spreading online say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used expensive pens, or ones made of gold, to sign the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Actually, the pens, which are made mostly of brass, have a suggested retail value of about $20.
Jan. 24, 2020

Social Posts Distort Facts on Trump Charities
Posts on social media falsely claim that the Trump family is “disallowed from operating ANY charity” in New York because they “stole from a kids cancer charity.” That inaccurately describes the outcome of a court case involving the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and conflates it with allegations about the Eric Trump Foundation.
Dec. 24, 2019

Dubious Posts Tie Political Families to Ukraine Work
There’s no evidence for social media claims that the children of Nancy Pelosi, Mitt Romney and John Kerry are working for “Ukrainian gas companies” or sitting “on the board of directors for energy companies doing business in Ukraine.”
Oct. 29, 2019

Pelosi Didn’t Raid Social Security for Impeachment Inquiry
A viral, made-up story sowed confusion among social media users over whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has diverted Social Security money to the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. She didn’t.
Oct. 11, 2019

Did President Donald Trump send Barack Obama a bill for his “vacation scam”?
No. That bogus claim comes from a “satirical publication.”
June 19, 2017

Comparing Benefits for Refugees and Senior Citizens
A popular meme falsely claims that each month refugees in the United States receive over three times more money in “federal assistance” than Social Security beneficiaries. That’s a new version of an old claim we debunked over a decade ago.
July 19, 2019

Citizenship, the Census and Obama
Memes circulating online claim that former President Barack Obama removed the citizenship question from the 2010 census. He didn’t. The citizenship question in 2010 was handled the same way it had been since 1970.
July 12, 2019

McConnell’s Biggest Donor Isn’t Russian
A meme on Facebook falsely claims that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s biggest campaign donor is a Russian oligarch.
June 25, 2019

Did House passage of H.R. 1 allow noncitizens to vote?
No. That bill would enact a host of changes to election laws, but it does not permit noncitizens to vote.
March 13, 2019

Obama Didn’t Give Iran ‘150 Billion in Cash’
A viral meme distorts the facts about the Iran nuclear agreement. The deal, approved by six countries and the European Union, gave Iran access to its own frozen assets.
March 1, 2019

Social Security Falsehood Circulates Again
Social media posts wrongly claim Democrats voted against the Social Security cost-of-living increase for 2019. Adjustments to Social Security benefits are not decided by lawmakers.
Jan. 4, 2019

Does the U.S. provide medical insurance and voting rights to immigrants in the country illegally?
No. A viral meme misrepresents what such immigrants are entitled to in the U.S.
Nov. 9, 2018

Did President Trump donate his $400,000 salary to military cemeteries?
No. A year-old viral email makes that claim. But the president does indeed donate his salary to different government initiatives each quarter.
Aug. 7, 2018

Did expose as an “extremely liberal propaganda site”?
No. That false claim was made in a meme circulating online.
March 6, 2018

Has the Food and Drug Administration announced that vaccines cause autism?
No. FDA statements are grounded in scientific evidence. There is no evidence that vaccination is linked to autism.
Nov. 22, 2017

Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg resigning from the Supreme Court?
No. That claim was made in a fake news article based on a satirical story that said Ginsburg would resign if Donald Trump was elected president.
Jan. 18, 2017

Did Donald Trump tell People magazine in 1998 that if he ever ran for president, he’d do it as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country” and that he “could lie and they’d still eat it up”?
No, that’s a bogus meme.
Nov. 25, 2015

Can members of Congress retire and receive their full pay after serving one term?
No. Only senators are eligible for a pension after one term, but it won’t be their full salary.
Jan. 5, 2015

Did Barack and Michelle Obama “surrender” their law licenses to avoid ethics charges?
No. A court official confirms that no public disciplinary proceeding has ever been brought against either of them, contrary to a false Internet rumor. By voluntarily inactivating their licenses, they avoid a requirement to take continuing education classes and pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees. Both could practice law again if they chose to do so.
June 14, 2012

Is it true that members of Congress, their staffers and their family members do not have to pay back their student loans?
Not true. Some congressional employees are eligible to have up to $60,000 of student loans repaid after several years — just like other federal workers. But that’s not the case for members of Congress or their families.
Jan. 6, 2011

Is there a connection between and Barack Obama or Bill Ayers?
None, aside from benefiting at different times from the charity of the late publisher Walter Annenberg. We are a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and get funding from the Annenberg Foundation, created by Walter Annenberg in 1989. Ayers was one of three Chicago educators who applied for a grant from the Annenberg Foundation in 1995, which was one of 5,200 grants the foundation made during its first 15 years. That $49 million grant, plus additional funds raised locally, funded the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which sought to improve Chicago public schools. Obama was selected by Chicago officials (not Ayers) to chair the board set up to administer Annenberg Challenge funds, and he headed it until 1999. came into being in late 2003. For other details see our Oct. 10, 2008, article about Obama and Ayers, which includes a sidebar: “ and the ‘Annenberg Challenge.’ “