The world of news is complex - and false stories and visuals are often widely shared on social media. Blasting News’ editorial team spots the most popular hoaxes and misleading information every week to help you discern truth from falsehood . Here are the most shared claims of this week, of which none are legit.

USA

Claim: U.S. President Joe Biden has officially lowered the age of consent to eight years old

Facts: Social media users shared two screenshots of two headlines from different media. An NBC headline reads “BREAKING - President Biden Officially Lowered Age of Consent to 8,” and another from CNN states “Biden administration lowers age of consent to 8.”

Truth: As Snopes reports, Biden never changed the age of consent to eight years old. It is neither for the president nor his administration to make decisions on this matter.

The age of consent is governed by state-by-state criminal laws.

USA

Claim: Thousands of United States troops were sent to Europe in March 2020 for a child trafficking operation

Facts: Social media users have shared several allegations that U.S. troops were sent to Europe in March 2020 to prevent a child-smuggling operation. For example, one of the claims says that “Middle to Late 2019 The Vatican was raided by Police then on March 17 2020 Operation Defender Europe began.” It also adds: “50,000 Troops from the U.S, UK & Europe descended on Rome.

Remember the height of Corona in Italy back then. Think Vatican & its Child Trafficking Mafia's.”

Truth: As Reuters reports, Operation Defender Europe is an exercise that a U.S.-led multinational called Defender-Europe 20 has carried out with NATO allies to deter Russia from any repeat of its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The operation did not take place in March 2020 because it “was changed in size and scope on March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Reuters.

“The movement of all personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has stopped,” the fact-checking website adds. No evidence has been found to prove that 50,000 American, British and European soldiers were in Rome to rescue victims of child trafficking. A spokesperson for the U.S. military has refuted allegations that Defense-Europe 20 is linked to child trafficking, Reuters reports.

USA

Claim: Video shared by David Icke claims that clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines did not take place

Facts: A video shared by David Icke on social media says: “What about the trials that didn’t take place. Ladies and Gentlemen, the trial is the rolling out the vaccine fake. There were no trials, you’re the trial.”

Truth: David Icke is known to have shared several Fake News and has since been banned from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for misinformation. COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in clinical trials before being approved by governments and before being distributed and injected to populations around the world. As Reuters reports, the Pfizer trial registered 45,000 participants worldwide and Oxford-AstraZeneca has recruited more than 23,000 people in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa to test their candidate vaccine.

Positive efficacy results were shared in December 2020 for Pfizer and in January 2021 for Oxford-AstraZeneca.

USA

Claim: The World Health Organization changed advice to say masks are not necessary

Facts: A WordPress blog called Did You Know has shared an article which was widely shared on social media, claiming that the WHO declared on January 22, 2021 that there was “no scientific medical reason for any healthy person to wear a mask outside of a hospital.” “If you do not have any respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, or runny nose, you do not need to wear a medical mask. When used alone, masks can give you a false feeling of protection and can even be a source of infection when not used correctly,” reports the blog post.

Truth: Facebook flagged the post as part of its efforts to combat disinformation and fake news.

The transcript of the WHO press conference that took place on January 22, 2021 shows that no such allegation was made. On the other hand, the WHO has strengthened its position. Indeed, WHO COVID-19 Technical Officer Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said masks were “one aspect of control, one aspect of reducing the spread of this virus, and they can’t be used alone.” The WHO website describes the use of masks as “a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives.”

Italy

Claim: Mario Draghi has sold off Italian public enterprises on the HMY Britannia

Facts: Following the decision of the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella to give to Mario Draghi the mandate to form a new government, some words pronounced in 2008 by the former President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga have been widely shared on the web.

Cossiga, in a telephone interview with the programme “Uno Mattina,” said: “You cannot appoint as Prime Minister someone who was a partner of Goldman Sachs.” “He is the Italian public enterprises' liquidator, after the well-known cruise on the Britannia yacht. The selling off of Italian public industry,” he added. The words were also quoted by 5 Star Movement member Alessandro di Battista in his editorial for The Post Internazionale.

Truth: The affair is part of an old Italian conspiracy theory: “The Britannia conspiracy.” Mario Draghi has never been a “partner of Goldman Sachs”, but vice chairman and managing director of the American investment bank. Moreover, he was on the HMY Britannia in 1992, when a conference of world-class economists was held, just for a brief introduction to the seminar, getting off the ship before it left, as reported by several newspapers at the time.

There is no evidence that an alleged “sell-off of Italian public enterprises” was decided at that seminar.

New Zealand

Claim: Video shows UK prime minister Boris Johnson saying that COVID-19 testing “only works in seven per cent of the cases”

Facts: Video shared on Facebook and YouTube shows UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly saying that COVID-19 testing “only works in seven percent of cases.” Some of the posts are followed by the caption: “COVID tests 93% inaccurate.”

Truth: The clip shared on social media is part of an interview given by the British prime minister to the BBC on 4 September 2020. Boris Johnson, however, was not commenting on the overall efficacy of COVID-19 testing, but rather citing a UK government report that shows that COVID-19 tests done on people who had just arrived in the UK detected only seven percent of positive cases.

However, the study points out that the same test, applied to travelers a second time during the mandatory quarantine period, detected between 85% and 98% of positive cases.

South Korea

Claim: It snowed in Egypt for the first time in 112 years

Facts: Images shared on Facebook claim to show snow scenes that would have happened in Egypt recently. Some of the posts are followed by the caption: “Egypt where it snowed for the first time in 112 years.”

Truth: A reverse search on the internet shows that, of the eight images shared on social media, six were not taken in Egypt and two were digitally manipulated. Among those not taken in Egypt are images taken in Jordan, China, Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Among those that were manipulated, with the digital addition of snow, are one of the pyramids of Giza and another of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Ethiopia

Claim: Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed is either dead or in critical condition

Facts: Posts shared thousands of times on Facebook claim that Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed is either dead or in critical condition. In one version, which features an image of a man partially covered by a sheet and with his eyes closed, the caption reads: “Breaking News we have recently heard dr.abiy ahmed ali died in 44 year.” Other versions, which bring an alleged image of the prime minister in a hospital bed, claim that Ahmed is very sick and was evacuated to either Italy or Germany for medical treatment.

Truth: On January 24, 2020, the Ethiopian government's official Facebook page posted the following message: “We ask members of the public to be vigilant about fake news circulating about Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s well-being on social media.” On January 28, 2020, Ahmed posted on his Facebook profile photos of a visit he made to the Prosthetics Orthotics Center (POC) in the capital Addis Ababa.

Questioned by AFP, the medical center staff confirmed the prime minister's visit on January 28. As for the alleged image of Ahmed in a hospital bed, a reverse image search on the internet shows that it is actually a digital manipulation of an image of another hospitalized man, published on the GoFundMe website in 2017.

Myanmar

Claim: Photo shows civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi being detained during military coup in Myanmar

Facts: Photo shared on Facebook claims to show Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi being arrested on February 1, 2020, amid a military coup in the Southeast Asian country.

Truth: Although Aung San Suu Kyi was in fact detained during the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2020, a reverse image search shows that the picture shared on social media was originally taken on August 17, 2017, by photographer Aung Kyaw Htet, from AFP.

The picture shows Suu Kyi attending the funeral of a member of her political party.

Brazil

Claim: Use of hydroxychloroquine is reconsidered in the United States with Biden

Facts: Article published by the Brazilian website Brasil Sem Medo and shared on Facebook and WhatsApp claims that the use of hydroxychloroquine – a drug that has been used for decades to prevent and treat malaria and certain autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus – to treat COVID-19 was reconsidered in the USA after Joe Biden became president earlier this year.

Truth: Contrary to what the text states, since June 2020, the FDA has not recommended the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as a prevention or treatment for COVID-19, and this position has not changed after Joe Biden took office on January 20.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), several studies indicate that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in reducing the progression of COVID-19 in patients with mild symptoms and even may cause adverse effects, such as increased cardiac arrhythmia.

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