A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
CLAIM: A new tax policy allows the IRS to “monitor all transactions involving bank accounts worth more than $600.” Another new policy taxes all payments of more than $600 made through applications like PayPal and Venmo.
THE FACTS: Current tax proposals and policies do not call for either of these actions.
As part of its efforts to crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy, the Biden administration has proposed a policy aimed at reducing the tax gap and improving tax compliance. Under this proposal, financial institutions — which are already required to report to taxpayers and the IRS when bank accounts earn interest that exceeds $10 — would also document the total amount deposited and withdrawn from personal and business accounts annually.
The requirement would not extend to bank accounts that have less than $600 in transactions per year or contain a balance of less than $600.
The Biden administration argues this data may give the IRS a better sense of who might be receiving large incomes that they aren’t reporting. But claims the proposal would allow “direct access to your bank transactions” are incorrect. Banks would not be able to report individual transactions to the IRS.
“The statement that has been making the rounds that the IRS will be monitoring every transaction is extremely misleading,” said Samantha Jacoby, a senior tax legal analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The only thing that the IRS would have access to is two new numbers: total gross inflows and gross outflows for the whole year.”
The suggested new rules remain in proposal form and are still being discussed. In recent days, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has suggested the reporting threshold could change from $600 to $10,000.
Additionally, some social media users have made a separate false claim alleging that new taxes will be placed on people who use third-party payment apps including Zelle, Cash App, Venmo or PayPal. This stems from a misunderstanding of a provision in the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act, an economic stimulus bill that was passed in March and is set to go into effect in January 2022, according to Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.
That policy requires a tax form called a 1099-K to be filed for business owners earning $600 or more a year on payments that are received through third-party applications. The rule does not apply to noncommercial payments like reimbursing someone for food or rent or other one-off transactions such as selling an old piece of furniture, Rosenthal said.
“The American Rescue Plan requires Venmo and PayPal and others to report commercial transactions, those are transactions for the sale of goods or services to any seller whose receipts exceed $600,” Rosenthal told the AP. “That’s merely information reporting. It does not impose any tax liability on its own.”
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.
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CLAIM: The owner of five restaurants in Terminal C at Denver International Airport told employees they needed to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1 or they would be fired. None of the cooks, dishwashers, bussers or hosts showed up to work, so there were no restaurants open in Terminal C. The owner immediately sent an email reversing the vaccine mandate.
THE FACTS: Social media users this week are baselessly claiming that restaurant employees at Denver’s airport reversed a vaccine mandate by not showing up to work.
“Denver airport,” read a tweet shared more than 5,000 times on Thursday. “The owner of 5 restaurants in C terminal made a Nov. 1 mandate or get fired. None of the cooks, dishwashers, bussers, & hosts showed up to work. So there were no restaurants open in C Terminal. He immediately sent an email reversing mandate.”
The message in the tweet, which was later deleted, circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and the messaging app Telegram, despite offering no specifics or evidence that the incident occurred.
It fact, it didn’t happen, according to Alex Renteria, public information officer for the Denver International Airport.
“We have not had any concession employee strike, nor have any restaurants on Concourse C been closed other than their normal hours of operation,” Renteria said. “We can confirm this is false information.”
Earlier this month, Denver airport janitors staged a one-day strike for higher pay, according to local news reports. And security officials told a local TV station this week they had voted to strike for the same reason. These job actions didn’t appear to be related to any vaccine requirements.
There is no airport-wide vaccine mandate, Renteria said, and companies with retail stores in the airport decide individually whether to require their employees to get vaccinated. Three different companies that appear to own restaurants in Concourse C of the Denver airport — Tastes on the Fly, Paradies Lagardère and Edible Beats — did not respond to emailed requests for comment on their vaccination policies.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
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CLAIM: A Delta Airlines pilot who had recently been vaccinated for COVID-19 died mid-flight within the last 10 days, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.
THE FACTS: This false claim circulated widely on video-sharing websites, blogs and Instagram this week following a Monday segment on the conservative talk show “The Stew Peters Show.”
Show guest Jane Ruby, a political pundit, said that she had heard about the incident from three whistleblowers.
“A pilot died in flight within the last, I’d say, 10 days, according to these sources,” Ruby said. “The flight had to make an emergency landing.”
Ruby added that the pilot was based at the Los Angeles International Airport and that staff on board “did land the plane safely.” She also said she had heard from one of the whistleblowers that the pilot had recently received his second COVID-19 vaccine dose.
But the claim is entirely false, Delta Airlines said in a statement addressing the topic on Wednesday.
“Delta is aware of reports suggesting one of the airline’s pilots passed away from vaccine complications while operating a flight, resulting in an emergency landing,” the statement read. “All of these allegations are false.”
The FAA also told the AP in an email it “has found no evidence such an event occurred.”
Emergency landings or medical issues on commercial flights frequently appear in news articles, but an internet search turned up no news article matching any similar incident from October 1 to 11, 2021, the time period that the claim referenced. A search on a website tracking global aviation-related incidents also turned up no emergency landing incidents involving Delta Airlines during this time period.
The media company that hosts “The Stew Peters Show” did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Peters or Ruby.
The false story was one example of misinformation that surged online this week surrounding airline pilots and COVID-19 vaccinations. When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights last weekend, social media users made the unverified claim that it was because of employees protesting vaccine mandates. Southwest Airlines denied these claims, saying bad weather and air traffic control issues caused the disruptions.
— Ali Swenson
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CLAIM: A 2018 study that looked at the effectiveness of N95 masks versus medical masks found that masks don’t stop the spread of viruses.
THE FACTS: The study found that N95 masks and medical masks are equally effective at protecting against viral respiratory infections and illnesses — not that masks do not work.
The trial tracked groups of health care workers who were randomly assigned to wear either N95 or medical masks, also known as surgical masks, when around patients with respiratory or influenza-like illness. It looked at the health outcomes of these health workers at 137 outpatient sites over four flu seasons.
Derek Cummings, a professor of biology and infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Florida, said the study built on previous research that showed masks are effective at preventing the spread of viruses.
“The study was not designed to assess whether N95 masks work or not,” he said. “What we were trying to do was to say that we know N95s work. We don’t know how much better they are than medical masks.”
The study, which first appeared online in 2018 and then was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019, determined that both kinds of masks worked equally well.
A line from the study’s conclusion reads in part: “neither N95 nor MM resulted in superior protection.”
Social media users shared screenshots of that section and falsely claimed it was evidence that masks do not work.
Trish Perl, chief of the division of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, also co-authored the study. Perl said she was mortified when she saw the misinformation about the study circulating online.
“We found there was not a difference between wearing a respirator and wearing a medical mask in that study,” she said. “We didn’t say masks don’t work or N95 masks don’t work.”
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, misinformation around masks has been circulating online. Health officials, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, recommend masks to prevent those who are infected with coronavirus from spreading it.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
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CLAIM: Video shows people dropping “dead” outside a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in London after receiving a shot.
THE FACTS: The video, which circulated on Twitter, does not show anyone dying, or even collapsing, after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Rather, it shows a protest outside the North Kensington Fire Station in London, where a bus was providing COVID-19 vaccinations.
The nature of the protest isn’t entirely clear from the video, but it appears to be related to COVID-19.
In the video, a woman passes the bus as she walks down the street and then collapses off camera. The woman can then be seen lying on the sidewalk as onlookers are heard asking if she is all right. A man asks if the woman was “jabbed,” a common way of asking if someone has received the vaccine.
“Protesters outside a covid vaccination clinic watch in horror as people drop dead before their eyes!!!” states the tweet making the false claim.
The incident took place on Oct. 6.
In fact, the woman “had not been on the bus but was walking on the road where the vaccine bus was parked,” according to a spokesperson for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. “She fainted,” the spokesperson said.
“I am not sure what the cause was. Only that she didn’t have a vaccine from the vaccine bus.”
The Associated Press also reached out to the London Fire Brigade for further details. A spokesperson with the brigade said no information had been logged by the North Kensington Fire Station about the incident.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
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CLAIM: Car seats are being left in public places as a sex trafficking ploy to kidnap women.
THE FACTS: There is no evidence that this is a ploy being used by traffickers, officials say.
A viral TikTok video viewed more than 13 million times references a Wilkesboro, North Carolina, police department announcement but ignores what it actually said: that, contrary to rumors, a car seat left in a Walmart parking lot was not found to be associated with trafficking.
In the video, a woman shows the police department’s Facebook post with a photo of a pink and black car seat in a parking lot. She asks viewers if they’ve ever seen “this type of car seat just out of nowhere.” She goes on to say: “That’s actually a trap. Please do not go near that car seat. That’s actually a sex trafficking car seat where they’re just waiting for you to walk up, you as a woman to walk up, where they can grab you.”
She encourages women who “see a random car seat” to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
But the police department’s Facebook post was actually refuting — not supporting — the idea that the car seat in the photo was left as part of a human trafficking trap.
“The Wilkesboro Police Department has investigated this incident and discovered the circumstances of how the seat was left in the parking lot,” the department wrote. “Two customers walked out of Wal-Mart after purchasing a new child car seat. An older seat was removed from their car and placed on the ground and the new child seat was installed. The customers then left the parking lot leaving the old child seat behind on the ground. At no time was this incident deemed to be involved in any criminal activity.”
Tommy Rhodes, interim chief of the department, said in a phone interview that police reviewed security footage and watched the events unfold to determine what actually happened. “If we for one second thought that was a sex trafficking ploy, we would be all over that,” he said.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
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