Fake News for the Week Ending September 24, 2021

What’s new in fake news this week? Let’s find out.

  • This just in. The results of the much maligned Republican-led “audit” of votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, are in, and they reveal that Donald Trump’s Big Lie about having the election stolen because of voter fraud is just that — a big lie. The final results are set to be released later today, but insiders leaked the preliminary results this morning. Even though the “audit” was far from official or even competent, really just a witch hunt conducted by Trump partisans who hired the little-known and little-experienced Cyber Ninjas company to do the dubious “auditing,” the results confirm the official election results that showed Joe Biden winning the county. In fact, the Cyber Ninja count showed Biden winning by an even larger margin (45,469 vs. 45,109) than the official count. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud and the election was not “stolen” from Donald Trump. The Big Lie perpetrated by Trump and his cronies is nothing more than fake news meant to cloud the real election results. Yahoo! News has the preliminary report.
  • Here’s an example how celebrity and social media can combine to spread rumors, fake news, and urban legends. Last week singer Nicki Minaj tweeted that a friend of her cousin in Trinidad had received the COVID-19 vaccine and became impotent and his testicles swelled up. (She also she herself won’t get vaccinated until “I feel I’ve done enough research.”) A few points:
    • First, the claim is total nonsense, thoroughly debunked by both the Trinidad health minister and U.S. expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who explained that there’s no way this type of vaccine could cause a big balls problem.
    • Second, nobody has been able to identify the friend of Minaj’s cousin, despite a bit of a manhunt by Trinidadian authorities. He probably doesn’t exist.
    • Third, this is the sort of “friend of a friend” urban legend that is unfortunately too common in the Internet age. You’ve seen the posts, typically on Facebook or Nextdoor, someone posts something outrageous (attempted child kidnappings from a mall or gas station are common) that didn’t happen to the poster, but to a friend of one of the poster’s friends. It’s not first-hand, it’s not even second hand, it’s totally out of hand.
    • Fourth, when the facts are checked there is absolutely no evidence of the claim — no police reports, no newspaper reports, no nothing.
    • Fifth, even if the claim were true, which it never is, it’s totally anecdotal. Even if one person happened to get big balls after receiving the vaccine, that does not mean that there is a widespread issue. Only research and data over a large data set can prove that, not a single claim from a single person.

      This particular incident is particularly disturbing due to Minaj’s large, mostly youthful, following (22 million strong on Twitter alone) who might be tempted to actually believe her and then shy away from getting vaccinated themselves. Celebrities have a big bullhorn and social media only helps to amplify that. This is how fake news spreads in the social media age — and how rumors and disinformation can have serious effects. The Conversation has detailed coverage.
  • Apparently it’s not just the COVID-19 vaccine that (falsely) causes infertility. Social media are abuzz with posts that claim the drug ivermectin, which some (falsely) believe can miraculously cure COVID, also causes sterility in 85% of the males who take it. A few things here. First, ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites in cattle, has not been proven to cure COVID. Second, there is no evidence that ivermectin causes sterility in humans. (One 2011 study from Nigeria indicated that patients taking ivermectin for river blindness, which is caused by parasitic worms, experienced a reduction in their sperm counts, but the study was small and problematic; no further studies have been conducted.) So don’t take ivermectin if you have COVID — and if you do, don’t worry about becoming sterile. FactCheck.org does the detailed debunking on this one.
  • Speaking of ivermectin, another Internet rumor claims that the CDC is giving ivermectin to incoming refugees as a presumptive treatment for possible COVID-19 infections. The truth is somewhat different. What the CDC did is approve ivermectin as a treatment for refugees who suffer from parasitic infections. It has not endorsed the drug for treatment of COVID-19. Again, FactCheck.org does the debunking.
  • Remember Michael Flynn, ex-president Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor? In addition to continuing to spread the Big Lie about non-existent voter fraud, he is now out there claiming that “they’re talking about putting the vaccine in salad dressing.” He did not indicate who “they” were (the amorphous “deep state,” probably) or how they were getting the COVID-19 vaccine into which brands of salad dressing, probably because it’s some of the biggest nonsense he’s uttered to date, which is saying something. Needless to say, this is not something that’s happening. Salon has the story.
  • Fake news isn’t just limited to these United States. Apparently there are a lot of conspiracy theories and disinformation swirling about in advance of the upcoming German election, including one that claims that the elections are invalid because Germany was not officially recognized as an independent state by Allied force commanders after World War II — which, of course, is totally false. The BBC tells you all about it.

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