Fact-checking fake news on International Fact-checking Day

Artwork for International Factchecking Day by Gianluca Costantini. See more at bit.ly/factcheckit
Artwork for International Factchecking Day by Gianluca Costantini. See more at bit.ly/factcheckit

Move over internet hoaxes and fake news, it’s time for International Factchecking Day.

This year, fact-checkers around the world are taking a stand in favor of facts. We’ve declared April 2 — the day after April Fool’s Day — as International Fact-checking Day. It’s our way of proclaiming the need for strong evidence and solid facts in journalism and everyday life.

To ring in the new holiday, PolitiFact conducted a "fact-check-a-thon" on fake news where we examined the pervasive claims from around the country with our partners at the PolitiFact state sites.

Let’s jump in.

California

In March, internet posts started spreading a fake news story that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, was arrested and taken from her office in handcuffs.  

The posts falsely claimed that the U.S. Secret Service was arresting Pelosi because she was "wanted for questioning in a possible coup attempt against the president."

Rather than being behind bars, Pelosi has remained active in Washington D.C. and in her district in recent weeks.

Furthermore, no credible media sources repeated the story, earning the claim a Pants on Fire!

Colorado

A years-old fake news post about a Major League baseball club selling way more than Cracker Jack continues to burn readers in Colorado.

"Colorado Rockies baseball team to sell marijuana brownies at their concession stands," reads the headline on an EmpireSports.co story dated Feb. 28, 2014.

Colorado residents voted to decriminalize recreational marijuana in 2012, but you still can’t buy edibles at the Rockie’s stadium.

We don’t know why this fake news story has continued to live on, but it’s time to burn it once and for all. Pants on Fire!

Illinois

A fake news website said Illinois was going to allow Muslims to obtain driver’s licenses with their faces covered.

"Muslims get their way--Illinois will permit wearing burqas in driving licenses photos," the headline reads.

But, according to Dave Druker, the spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the  the headline is fake news.

"That is not the case and the face must be exposed," he said.

Pants on Fire!

Florida

Video clips have circulated across the internet for years under this headline: "Florida Sheriff: Blacks should learn to act like white people in order to stay alive."

Did that happen?

Well, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has shared controversial thoughts on race, crime and African-American culture in a couple of videos, but he didn't go as far as some blogs would have you believe.  

The stories about the videoes use real quotes from Morgan, but not the one given most prominence in the headline. We listened to the clips and did not hear Morgan make that particular statement.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Georgia

Bloggers on the internet said "Georgia becomes first state to ban Muslim culture in historic move to restore Western values."

The post appears to have originated from fake news purveyors in Macedonia, who used a real news item from months ago to wrongly say the U.S. state of Georgia has outlawed "Muslim culture."

But the post misrepresents the outcome of a months-old and short-lived legislative proposal from November 2016.

A bill in November 2016 in the Georgia General Assembly would have banned the wearing of burqas, niqabs and veils. The story trumpeted the bill as being "about keeping the American people safe." Muslim culture was not banned, although it did appear to briefly be under attack.

We rate the headline False.

Texas

Is the next Star Wars movie seeking alien extras near Houston?

Well, that’s the scoop from a post on WBN12, but don’t get too excited. There’s no evidence for this claim anywhere including on wbn12.com, which counsels that none of its content "should be considered true."

This post proved as fake as a Wookiee. Pants on Fire!

North Carolina

Fans of the Notebook rejoiced recently when bloggers on the internet claimed the romantic film would be getting a sequel on the North Carolina coast.

"Producers of the upcoming film confirmed the news today and announced that filming will begin in Jacksonville, North Carolina, this summer," reported the website WBN10.

But, unfortunately for them — it’s fake news.

We checked with the people who would know if there actually are plans for this movie in the works, like Johnny Griffin, the director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission in eastern North Carolina and the N.C. Department of Commerce.

They said there’s no Notebook 2. Pants on Fire!

New Hampshire

Motorcyclists itching to hit New Hampshire’s scenic, winding roads, might be a little less enthusiastic if they trusted a widely distributed news article last year.

According to the article, New Hampshire motorcyclists would have to install a device that limits their motorcycle to 75 mph – per a federal government regulation – before they can ride. This is not true, though.

There was never any such rule proposed.

Limiters, or governors, are a real thing. You can buy them online for cars, motorcycles and ATVs, but the cost is usually a few hundred dollars, not the "subsidized cost" of $35 as the article states.

We rate this Pants on Fire!

New York

A blog post widely shared on social media alleges a New York man has set out to infect as many people with HIV as possible and has infected up to 300 people already.

The post quotes the New York City Health Department urging anyone who may be affected to seek help. We reached out to the department about the story. The department said both the quote and the story are fake.

"We can confirm that this story is completely false," the department said in an email.

Pants on Fire!

Pennsylvania

Did former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum say, "Sometimes pregnancy is God’s way of comforting rape victims?"

According to Uspoln, a "U.S. political news" site with 23,000 Facebook likes (and some of the weirdest "you may also like" links of all time), Santorum made the comment on Piers Morgan Live in mid-February.

But, that show has not been on television since 2014. In a 2012 interview with Morgan about abortion, Santorum did talk about being opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape, but he didn’t phrase his opinion in those words.

We rate the claim False.

Wisconsin

A post on the internet says that President Donald Trump used The Celebrity Apprentice catchphrase "You're fired" on House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"BREAKING: President Trump Just Told Paul Ryan ‘You’re Fired.’" reads the headline from an article posted on TheLastLineOfDefense.org on March 14, 2017.

We couldn’t find this story on any other site that we could find — much less a reputable news source.

Furthermore, roughly two-thirds of the statements made by bloggers that have been rated by PolitiFact have received a False or Pants on Fire. That includes a handful made by TheLastLineOfDefense.org.

We rate this Pants on Fire!

Global News

A Facebook headline said that the South African government ordered a company to lay off over 3,389 white workers.  

"A South African utility company has been given an ultimatum to reduce its number of white employees by 44.3 percent over the next five years," the article said. "This means 3,389 whites have to go. It is part of the Federal ‘Black Empowerment’ program."

The headline misses the mark on its main points, but behind it lie real events.

The government did tell the state utility company Eskom to increase the fraction of black workers in various job categories, but it did not specify a number.

We rate this claim False.

PunditFact

A fake news story falsely said Megyn Kelly’s move from Fox News to NBC is already over, even as the ink on her contract is drying.

"NBC just fired Megyn Kelly before her new show begins," reads the headline on a March 8, 2017, article on USPostman.com.

The article quotes both her supposed new NBC producer Hugh McGovern and NBC Universal CEO Maxwell Seawald as saying unflattering things about her desire and ability to be a journalist.

But, it doesn’t appear these are real people; NBC Universal’s CEO is actually Steven Burke.

This indicates the post was likely made up. Pants on Fire!