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It's been three weeks since the police killing of George Floyd that sent many people into the streets in outrage, shining a spotlight on police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S.
Floyd’s tragic death and the global protests that followed also led to a plethora of rumors and conspiracy theories, ranging from the absurd to harmful.
One theory erroneously claimed former President Obama mysteriously tweeted an image of a protest sign with Floyd’s face on it nine days before his death. Another falsely said “The Simpsons” predicted Floyd's death.
Then there are the dangerous fake theories, such as the false narrative that the Democrats issued a riot manual for protesters. President Trump pushed one of his own by incorrectly calling an elderly peaceful protester in Buffalo, who was violently shoved by police officers, a member of the far-left group antifa. Court records and research shows the loosely affiliated group didn't have that much to do with these protests.
Bond Huberman is an editor at Snopes.com, which is known as the Internet's premier fact-checking resource. For months, Snopes was hard at work debunking coronavirus myths.
Now, Snopes is dealing with confirming or quashing information, social media posts, pictures and videos that are related to Floyd’s death and the protests. Huberman says most myths resulted from people who were in denial of certain facts, even going so far to push a troubling and false conspiracy theory — whether Floyd even died.
“Kind of in that vein of denial is these disingenuous arguments or memes that are surfacing online about Floyd's background,” she says. “... One common rumor that we're seeing going around is that Floyd supposedly put a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman. No documented evidence shows that from our investigation.”
On the rumor that antifa is recruiting people on Craigslist to disrupt protesters
“So this screenshot of an ad on Craigslist, which right away red flag, if the most common evidence you're seeing of something happening is a screenshot of an image online, right away [it’s] suspect. Anyway, this ad appeared very briefly offering to pay up to 1,000 people [for] $25 an hour in Nebraska to, quote, basically cause as much chaos and destruction as possible. The ad was up for a very short amount of time.
“Our fact-checker, Alex Kasprak, looked into it [and found it was] completely nonsense and appeared to have been posted after some protest activity in Nebraska in which the advertised chaos and destruction did not manifest. And I should say that fake Craigslist ads are a pretty common tactic. We've fact-checked several of those related to political demonstrators, Trump rallies. Just keep in mind, anyone can create a Craigslist ad. It doesn't take much time at all.”
On President Trump pushing an unfounded conspiracy theory claiming the 75-year-old man in Buffalo, who was pushed down by police officers, is part of antifa
“We did not find evidence of that. I know reporter Alex Kasprak looked into the story, for example, of Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by the Buffalo Emergency Response Team. These ridiculous rumors circulated that not only was he supposedly an antifa agitator, not true, but apparently he was attempting to scan police communications simply by waving his cell phone in front of them.
“I mean, the idea that you could somehow intercept or jam or scramble police communications by waving your smartphone in front of somebody's body, like that just doesn't make any sense. But there were reports out there that confused comments from a press conference with the mayor of Buffalo calling someone else an agitator. Completely different person, different circumstance, adjacent to the Martin Gugino event. So reports mischaracterized his comments as being about Gugino. That's just a sad example of when a mistake becomes a meme and a rumor and spreads faster than the correction.”
On a video claiming that protesters vandalized a children’s hospital in Texas
“Another great example of when this just tiniest morsel of fact gets served up in this casserole of misinformation and then you don't know what's what anymore. A video surfaced that did show protesters throwing objects at a sky bridge between two high rise buildings. And it was not Texas Children's Hospital. It's a completely different neighborhood. But again, that slight tweak between saying a building was being vandalized and seeing a children's hospital being vandalized. It gives it that emotional edge that is more likely to capture people's attention and get them to share it.”
On a doctored picture that’s circulating on social media showing the Lincoln Memorial defaced with graffiti with Trayvon Martin’s name and “Black + Brown Lives Matter” scrawled across
“Didn't happen. Now, there has been graffiti on national monuments and certainly pertaining to this issue, but not the Lincoln Memorial, not the image that we fact check showed the Lincoln Memorial absolutely covered tip to toe. We did not find evidence that that is true.”
On how people react to Snope’s fact checks
“We get a range of emotions in the responses to our content. But absolutely, a lot of readers do send genuine thanks for the information that we provide and some even come clean that they've been corrected by friends or family who sent them to us. And they've been really grateful to find the sort of measured, informative response that we're not here to guilt or shame. We just want to understand.”
This segment aired on June 17, 2020.
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