As 2023 draws to a close, it is worth recapping some of the main Fake News stories to make the rounds on the web this year. From new topics, such as the Israel-Hamas war or the Hawaii wildfires, to old favorites, like the COVID pandemic or climate change, there was no shortage of attempts on social media to mislead unwary internet users about the top stories in the news. Check out below 10 of the most important false claims that have been debunked by our team over the year.

Palestinians applying makeup to simulate injuries

False claim: The current conflict between Israel and Hamas saw the old “crisis actors” conspiracy theory be massively used on the web to challenge the scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.

Among the many false narratives making the rounds, social media users have shared a video showing men and women having fake blood applied to their faces, legs and arms to simulate injuries. According to the posts, the images show Palestinians pretending to be victims of Israeli attacks.


  • A reverse image search shows that the clip shared on social media is part of a video published in March 2017 on the Turkish broadcaster TRT World's YouTube page.
  • According to the news report, the images show Palestinian makeup artist Mariam Salah working on a documentary by the international humanitarian organization Doctors of the World about the dangers faced by Gaza residents.

BBC and Bellingcat did not report that Ukraine sold weapons to Hamas

False claim: Social media users around the world have shared an alleged BBC News video claiming that a report by the investigative website Bellingcat revealed that the Ukrainian government had secretly sold weapons and ammunition to the Islamist group Hamas.


  • In a post on its official X account, Bellingcat shared a screenshot of the BBC News video, accompanied by the following text: “We're aware of a fake BBC video circulating on social media falsely claiming that Bellingcat has verified Ukrainian weapons sales to Hamas. We've reached no such conclusions or made any such claims. We'd like to stress that this is a fabrication and should be treated accordingly.”
  • Also in a post on X, BBC Verify reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh said that the video circulating on social media “is 100% fake.”
  • The Ukrainian government officially condemned the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. In a post on its official Facebook page, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency accused Russia of promoting a “disinformation campaign” to accuse Ukraine of selling arms to terrorist groups.

European study did not find that the COVID-19 vaccines cause long-term brain damage

False claim: Social media users around the world have shared a screenshot of an article with the following headline: “European Study Concludes COVID Jabs Cause ‘Long-Term Brain Damage’”.


  • A web search shows that the article shared on social media was originally published by the website The People's Voice – previously called Your News Wire and NewsPunch –, famous for promoting disinformation and conspiracy theories.
  • The article indicates as the source of the information a preprint study by researchers from Germany and Denmark, titled “SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Accumulation in the Skull-Meninges-Brain Axis: Potential Implications for Long-Term Neurological Complications in post-COVID-19” and published on the bioRxiv platform on April 5, 2023.
  • Neuroscientist Ali Ertürk, director of the Institute of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at the Helmholtz Center in Munich and one of the authors of the study, told the Associated Press: “We have done zero experiments using vaccine, and we have shown and claim zero side effects of the vaccine.”
  • Ertürk also clarifies that the study revealed “the accumulation of the spike protein in the skull marrow, brain meninges, and brain parenchyma” after COVID-19 infection.

“Disease X” is not a new pandemic that scientists are plotting

False claim: Social media users in the United Kingdom have shared an article published by British broadcaster Sky News with the following headline: “‘Disease X’: UK scientists begin developing vaccines against new pandemic.” According to the posts, this would be an indication that the next pandemic is being plotted by scientists.


  • The Sky News article, published on August 7, reports that a team of more than 200 scientists are working at a high-security government laboratory at Porton Down in southwest England, developing vaccines for “a list of animal viruses that are capable of infecting humans and could in future spread rapidly around the world.” “Which of them will break through and trigger the next pandemic is unknown, which is why it's referred to only as ‘Disease X’,” reads the text.
  • The work is part of the so-called “100 Days Mission”, a global initiative that aims to develop safe and effective vaccines against any potential pandemic threat within 100 days of its identification.
  • Contrary to what the viral posts on social media suggest, the term “Disease X” is not new, being used by the World Health Organization (WHO) at least since 2018 to represent “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”.

Heat records have not been broken recently after European Space Agency switched to measuring land surface temperature instead of air temperature

False claim: Social media users in Europe have shared the claim that heat records broken this year during summer are due to the fact that the European Space Agency (ESA) allegedly started to measure land surface temperature instead of air temperature.


  • In a statement to Spanish fact-checking agency Newtral, a spokesperson for the ESA said the agency is not responsible for monitoring or recording heat records. “What we do is monitor the Earth from space,” they said.
  • In a post on its website on July 31, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that on July 6 “the daily average global mean surface air temperature surpassed the record set in August 2016, making it the hottest day on record.”
  • Also according to WMO, always based on air temperature data, the first three weeks of July have been the warmest three-week period on record.

Biden administration did not grant voting rights to 500,000 undocumented migrants

False claim: After the Department of Homeland Security announced on September 20 that about 472,000 undocumented Venezuelans who were living in the U.S.

as of July 31 may be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), social media users began sharing the claim that the Biden administration was granting voting rights to some “500,000 invaders.”


  • According to information published on the website of the Department of Homeland Security, “TPS is a temporary benefit that does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or give any other immigration status.” The website also informs that, once the TPS is granted, the beneficiary cannot be detained by the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of their immigration status in the United States.
  • Under federal law, only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections, and TPS beneficiaries do not automatically become U.S. citizens.
  • When announcing the measure on September 20, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said that the U.S. government's decision was made “based on Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions.”

No evidence directed energy weapons caused fires in Hawaii

False claim: Social media users around the world have shared the claim that this year’s devastating fires on the island of Maui in Hawaii were caused by “directed energy weapons” (DEW).

Some posts provide as proof of this claim images of alleged laser beams starting the fires.


  • A reverse image search shows that the images shared on social media are actually old and were not even recorded in Hawaii.
  • One of the images, for example, shows the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Base in California in May 2018, while another shows a controlled burn at an oil refinery in Ohio in January 2018.
  • Although the cause of the fires in Maui has not been determined, there is no evidence that directed energy weapons were involved. At a press conference on August 9, Major General Kenneth Hara, commanding general of the Hawaii Army National Guard, said that prolonged dry conditions, along with low humidity and high winds, “set the conditions for the wildfires.”

FBI has not announced “Pizzagate” is real

False claim: Social media users in the United States have shared the claim that the FBI have officially confirmed in recent weeks that the conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” is real.


  • “Pizzagate” is a conspiracy theory that emerged during the 2016 U.S. presidential election that alleges without any basis that high-level Democratic politicians, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are involved in a child sex trafficking ring that operates out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
  • A search on the internet shows that the claim that the FBI had confirmed that “Pizzagate” is real first appeared in an article published on November 23 on the website The People's Voice, already mentioned a couple of claims before.
  • The article claims that the FBI made the alleged announcement about “Pizzagate” in court documents related to the arrest of Clinton Harnden on November 13 in Texas on charges of possession of child pornography.
  • In statements to the Associated Press, Connor Hagan, a spokesperson for the FBI's office in Texas, said the agency has made no statements regarding “Pizzagate” in the documents related to Clinton Harnden's case.

It is false that some “liberal states” allow “post-birth abortions”

False claim: In an interview with CNN on July 18, Florida Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis claimed that “some liberal states” in the U.S.

allow “post-birth abortions.”


  • According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School in New York, an abortion is “the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.” The U.S. National Institutes of Health defines abortion as “a procedure to end a pregnancy.” It can be done in two ways: medical abortion, which uses drugs to end the pregnancy, and procedural abortion, in which a procedure is performed to remove the pregnancy from the uterus.
  • Terminating the life of a baby after birth is therefore not an abortion from a medical or legal perspective, but rather infanticide. No U.S. state currently allows infanticide.

NASA has not issued an alert that a solar storm can cause an “internet apocalypse”

False claim: Social media users around the world have shared the claim that NASA has issued an alert informing about the possibility of a future severe solar storm causing an “internet apocalypse”, leaving people without internet connection for months.

Some of the posts attribute the information to an alleged discovery made by NASA's Parker Solar Probe.


  • Launched on August 12, 2018 the Parker Solar Probe's mission, according to NASA, is to “expand our knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind” by traveling “through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it.”
  • One of the things NASA says on its page about the Parker Solar Probe mission is that disturbances in the solar wind can “change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics.”
  • NASA, however, makes no alert of a supposed “internet apocalypse” caused by solar storms on its pages and documents about the Parker Solar Probe mission, or indeed in any other space on its website or on its social media accounts.
  • According to data published by NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the scientific community has long been aware that solar activity cycles usually last about 11 years, with the last point of minimal activity having occurred in December 2019 and the next peak – called Solar Cycle 25 – expected to occur in 2025.
  • “While we are not predicting a particularly active Solar Cycle 25, violent eruptions from the Sun can occur at any time,” said Doug Biesecker, Ph.D., solar physicist at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, in a report published on NOAA's website.