NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas prepares for the 500 meter freestyle at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, March 17, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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:

The NCAA is not taking medals away from transgender athlete Lia Thomas

CLAIM: The NCAA is transferring medals won by transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to Riley Gaines, another former Division I swimmer.

THE FACTS: The claim first appeared in an article that is clearly labeled as satire.

An NCAA spokesperson told The Associated Press that Thomas and Gaines tied for fifth place in the women’s 200-yard freestyle race at a 2022 championship meet and that the results are final. The false claim circulated amid a congressional hearing on Tuesday that examined the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

“NCAA Reevaluates Medal Distribution, Acknowledges Mistake And Will Transfer Medals from Lia Thomas to Riley Gaines,” reads one Facebook post. But the claim originated in an article on SpaceXMania, a site that describes itself as publishing “the freshest fake news, some sassy analysis, and a good dose of satire.” Multiple satire labels also appear on the story itself. Neither the article nor social media posts sharing the claim as true specify which awards the NCAA would allegedly be reallocating.

Thomas and Gaines tied for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle race at the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, where Thomas swam for the University of Pennsylvania and Gaines for the University of Kentucky.

“The results of the race are final,” Greg Johnson, an NCAA spokesperson, told the AP in an email. Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle race at the meet, making her the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. Gaines did not participate in the race. Moreover, the NCAA awarded trophies for both races — not medals.

Gaines has opposed transgender athletes competing in women’s sports and openly condemned the NCAA’s decision to allow Thomas to compete in the 2022 championships. She was among four witnesses to testify during Tuesday’s House Oversight subcommittee hearing about changes to Title IX proposed by the Department of Education. The changes include a clarification that the law applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Thomas began her transition in 2019. She continued to swim on the Penn men’s team that year while beginning hormone replacement therapy and joined the women’s team for the 2021-2022 season after taking a year off of school. Her subsequent success came with criticism about whether a swimmer who competed as a man should be allowed to race against women.

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy did not purchase two luxury yachts in October. They’re still up for sale.

CLAIM: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy bought two luxury yachts, named Lucky Me and My Legacy, through proxies for more than $75 million.

THE FACTS: The companies selling each yacht confirmed to The Associated Press that they are still on the market. As the Russia-Ukraine war nears the two-year mark, social media users are falsely claiming that Zelenskyy recently purchased two multimillion-dollar yachts despite the devastating conflict.

“Ukrainian President Zelensky uses proxies to hide ownership of two yachts worth $75.000.000,” a post on X, formerly Twitter, states. “This man will go down in history as the person who destroyed his own country for fame and fortune.”

Many social media posts carrying the claim cite a Nov. 21 story from The Islander, an online publication, that reported Zelenskyy “is now ensnared in a scandal involving the alleged purchase of two luxury yachts, ‘Lucky Me’ and ‘My Legacy,’ worth a combined $75 million.”

The report pinned the supposed purchases on two of Zelenskyy’s associates, citing a video from a small YouTube channel that claimed to have documents showing them buying the yachts on behalf of the Ukrainian president. But, according to the companies selling the boats, both vessels are still on the market.

“Burgess can confirm that MY LEGACY is currently for sale with Burgess as the exclusive listing brokerage house,” Nicci Perides, a spokesperson for the luxury yacht company, told the AP in an email. “We can confirm that the yacht has not been sold and therefore remains for sale.”

BehneMar, another luxury yacht company, similarly called claims about its listing for Lucky Me “totally wrong and false,” writing in a statement that it “can confirm that the yacht has not been sold and is still for sale with BehneMar as the exclusive listing company.” The alleged sales documents read: “Memorandum of Agreement Approved by The Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association,” an outdated name of the group now called MYBA The Worldwide Yachting Association. Its name changed in 2008 and the group now uses a different logo than the one that appears on the documents. Blank versions of the documents shown in the YouTube video and on The Islander are available free online.

One of the supposed memorandums lists Lucky Me as being sold on Oct. 18 for $24.9 million to Boris Shefir, who worked with Zelenskyy at his production company Kvartal 95. The other states that My Legacy was sold exactly a week later for $49.75 million to Shefir’s brother, Serhiy Shefir, who also worked at Kvartal 95 and is now one of Zelenskyy’s top political aides. Jane Adlington-Brumer, MYBA’s general secretary, told the AP that the documents appear to be pre-2012 versions of a memorandum of agreement “no longer endorsed by MYBA.” She added that MYBA “does not approve yacht sales.”

Asked about The Islander’s story, its co-founder Chay Bowes told the AP that the site “did not state that President Volodymyr Zelensky directly purchased the luxury yachts ‘Lucky Me’ and ’My Legacy.” He noted that the story “highlighted allegations and connections involving his close associates.” Zelenskyy’s financial relationship with the Shefir brothers has come under scrutiny in the past. The Pandora Papers leak in 2021 led to reports that Zelenskyy had transferred his shares in an offshore company — Maltex Multicapital Corp — to Serhiy Shefir before his election to Ukraine’s presidency. An arrangement allowed Maltex to pay dividends to another company belonging to Zelenskyy’s wife, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reported at the time. Serhiy Shefir retained his stake in Maltex after he joined the Zelenskyy administration. Boris Shefir was named in the Pandora Papers as a part-owner of Maltex, but told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in 2021 that he was unaware of the details of the offshore arrangement. A spokesperson for Zelenskyy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Virginia house explosion not caused by firefight with federal agents. None were there.

CLAIM: An explosion at a home in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday night was caused by a firefight with U.S. federal agents that either ignited a gas pipeline or led a terrorist to set off a suicide vest.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. No federal agencies were present when the house exploded, according to the Arlington County Police Department. An investigation into the cause of the explosion is ongoing, officials said.

THE FACTS: Following the massive explosion at the Arlington duplex, located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., some on social media suggested that a cause had already been determined.

“While Executing A #Search #Warrant in #Arlington, #Virginia, one source told me that the US Federal Agents Allegedly Engaged in A #Firefight Resulting in Terr0rists Ign1ting A Suic!de Vest!” reads one Instagram post. Another Instagram post from the same account, citing a different source, also blamed the blast on an alleged firefight. However, it said that the exchange had caused a flare gun to go off, which in turn ignited a gas pipeline. Both posts included a dramatic video of the explosion. But neither theory is true, in part because federal agents weren’t near the house when it went up in flames.

“Federal agencies are assisting with the follow-up investigation into the home explosion in the 800 block of N. Burlington Street,” the Arlington County Police Department told The Associated Press on Wednesday in an emailed statement. “No federal agencies were on scene at the time of the explosion.” Assistant Fire Chief Jason Jenkins said at a Tuesday press conference that an investigation into the blast is “ongoing with no timeline for the conclusion” and that he would not speculate on cause or origin. Jenkins also noted that authorities turned off gas service to the home about 90 minutes before the explosion.

Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn said police went to the home after James Yoo, 56, fired a “flare-type gun” into the neighborhood more than 30 times from within the house. Following attempts to communicate with Yoo, police obtained a search warrant and deployed “non-flammable, less-lethal chemical munitions” in an effort to cause irritation and force the suspect to surrender, according to Penn. The suspect fired multiple gunshots from within the house after police breached a door to enter the home, the AP reported at the time. Soon after, just before 8:30 p.m., the duplex exploded. Yoo is believed to have died in the blast.