Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The year in social media claims, from True to Pants on Fire

Here's our year-end review of claims that went viral through chain emails, Facebook and other social media.
Here's our year-end review of claims that went viral through chain emails, Facebook and other social media.

People can spread falsehoods via social media faster than we can debunk (or confirm) them. But we keep trying anyway. Here are more than a dozen claims that spread virally through chain emails, Facebook posts and other Internet-based media.

Guns

Facebook post: In 2011, more people were murdered with knives, "hands or feet" or "clubs and hammers" than with any type of rifle.

The post used data selectively, ignoring the significant role of handguns in gun violence. But the statistics it mentions are solid. FBI data backs up the Facebook post’s claim that in 2011, more people were murdered with knives, "hands or feet" or "clubs and hammers" than with any type of rifle. We rated it True.

Chain email: A United Nations working group has "adopted a proposed agenda" to enable member nations to "disarm civilians within their borders."

If the document were real, it would confirm the worst fears of those who fear a mass confiscation of handguns, hunting rifles and ammunition in the U.S. -- but a United Nations spokesman cited several reasons for concluding that the document is a fake, including the fact that the study group referenced in the document does not exist. We rated it Pants on Fire.

Health care

Facebook post: Congress, criminals, Scientologists and other groups are exempt from Obamacare.

The Internet meme rattled off a list of groups that are and are not exempt from the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. It’s true that Obama and Biden don’t need to buy insurance on the marketplaces, but they’re not exempt from fines if they don’t have coverage. Prisoners and American Indians are in fact exempt, but they still have health care of some sort. Members of small number of religious groups can receive exemptions if they have formal objections to medical care or health insurance, but we found no evidence that Muslims or Scientologists meet that criteria. On balance, we rated the claim Mostly False.

Facebook post: Says a man opted out of Obamacare after the marketplace launched on Oct. 1, 2013, and was informed he owed a $4,000 fine.

The post includes many elements that make no sense or are flat-out wrong -- and can be easily debunked by reading the law or reliable summaries of it. We rated it Pants on Fire.

Bloggers: Obamacare provision will allow "forced home inspections" by government agents.

The program cited provides grants for voluntary help to at-risk families from trained staff like nurses and social workers. What bloggers described would be an egregious abuse of the law — not what’s allowed by it. We rated it Pants on Fire.

Chain email: Obamacare "will provide insurance to all non-U.S. residents, even if they are here illegally."    

The Affordable Care Act does nothing to provide health insurance to anyone living in the United States illegally. It does offer some assistance to legal non-U.S. citizens, which is different than a non-U.S. resident, as the email claims. (A non-U.S. resident could be living in Mexico, France or even Mars). We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

Immigration

Bloggers: Proposed immigration legislation would give new immigrants "a taxpayer-funded cellular phone."

The evidence for this claim is actually based on something else entirely -- a public safety program aimed at beefing up border security. The bill includes grants aimed at helping American ranchers and others in remote locations along the border get satellite phone service so they can be in touch with authorities. We rated the claim False.

Taxes

Chain email: A hidden provision in Obamacare taxes sporting goods as medical devices.    

There is a medical device excise tax within the Affordable Care Act. But the tax is not hidden. It does not apply to consumer products. A receipt from the sporting goods store Cabela’s that supposedly showed the tax being levied was the erroneous result of a software "glitch," and the money was refunded. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

Legal issues

Bloggers: "Pentagon confirms they may court martial soldiers who hold Christian faith."

A Defense Department spokesman said proselytizing — "unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others" — wasn’t permitted and that punishment for breaking military rules is decided "case by case." But while conservative religious groups argue this means "sharing the gospel" would become a crime, no policy we saw suggests that the Pentagon would court-martial soldiers "who hold Christian faith." Quite the opposite: Much of the language from the Defense Department reinforces the right of military members to practice their religion, as long as it’s in a way that respects others’ belief systems. Chaplains already follow such rules. We rated the claim Mostly False.

Foreign policy

Facebook post: Says Vladimir Putin said, "President Obama and his fellow Democrats are either idiots or deliberately trying to destroy their own economy."

This alleged quote has circulated online for almost six years, but we can say with confidence that the quote comes from a satire website, a truth that could have been easily discovered through a few clicks on the Internet. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

Congressional perks

Chain email: Congressional lawmakers earn their salaries "FOR LIFE," which for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would add up to "$803,700 Dollars a year for LIFE including FREE medical."

Lawmakers don’t earn a salary after their terms end. They may earn pensions based on years of service, but those don’t start until retirement. They don’t get "free medical" -- they pay premiums on their insurance through age 65, and then are on Medicare after that. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

The White House

Bloggers: Forty aides who serve President Barack Obama "owe $333,485 in back taxes."

The claim is accurate, though presenting it as an Obama White House phenomenon omits pertinent facts. It fails to mention that this is neither new nor unique to this president or this branch of government. We rated the claim Mostly True.

Bloggers: School children can earn higher grades by studying Islam under a new "nationwide Muslim outreach program" announced by President Barack Obama.

No such program exists. In fact, part of the story has been recycled from a previous satire article that we and others debunked. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.