Not Real News – A look at what didn’t happen this week: Immigrants, Etsy and Army-Navy

(Flyer photo)

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.

US Senate candidate spreads false claims about migrant aid

CLAIM: The federal government gives people who enter the U.S. illegally a cell phone, a domestic plane ticket to a location of their choice and a $5,000 Visa gift card.

THE FACTS: People who enter the U.S. illegally do not receive such assistance from the federal government, immigration experts told The Associated Press.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement gives some immigrants phones, but they can only access a monitoring app called SmartLink. Those who cross the border illegally do not receive gift cards. And although limited federal aid can help get migrants where they intend to go, they typically must choose from a set list of destinations and are usually transported by bus, not planes.

A U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona in recent days spread the false information in a video circulating on social media. The erroneous claims are similar to information that has been previously misrepresented online.

“When these folks come across and they’re processed, they’re being given a cell phone, a plane ticket to wherever they want to go in this country, so probably to a community near you, and a $5,000 Visa card,” Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a Republican, says in the video posted to his profile on X, formerly Twitter.

He continues: “So while this Christmas season you’re struggling to keep your lights on, while you’re struggling to pay your rent, put Christmas presents under the tree for your kids, we have our government giving people that came into this country illegally $5,000 gift cards. That’s the truth, folks.”

But the federal government does not provide benefits like the ones that Lamb described to those in the U.S. illegally. Lamb did not respond to a request for comment from the AP.

Immigrants who participate in ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program may receive phones instead of remaining in custody or wearing a tracking device such as an ankle monitor. But these devices have extremely limited abilities, the AP has previously reported. They can only access an app called SmartLink, which is used to monitor immigrants after they cross the border. The phones are not connected to a cellular network and cannot be used to browse the internet or make unauthorized calls or texts. Instead, they use Wi-Fi, which allows program participants to complete scheduled check-ins, receive reminders about court hearings and access a database of community services, among other functions related to program compliance.

People who enter the U.S. illegally do not receive $5,000 gift cards from the federal government. Both ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to the AP that the agencies do not hand out such cards. The AP has previously reported that those in the U.S. illegally are not eligible for federal cash assistance, with exceptions for certain Cubans and Haitians. However, none of these benefits include a one-time payment of $5,000.

As for transportation, the federal government does not buy plane tickets to wherever people who enter the country illegally want to go. “The overwhelming majority of migrants who cross the border have to pay for their own transport,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, told the AP. “There is no massive pool of money that is getting every migrant who crosses the border a plane ticket or anything like that.” Federal funds have been used to reimburse nonprofits and local governments for money they spend transporting people who enter the U.S. illegally. “Some migrants arriving from the U.S.-Mexico border may receive plane or bus tickets to their chosen destination, paid for by a non-profit organization,” said Julia Gelatt, associate director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute. “Others may be provided a free bus to a set list of destinations, funded by a state or city government.” She explained that these entities have been able to request reimbursements from the federal government, but that “the federal dollars have not been sufficient to cover all of the costs.” Reichlin-Melnick said that buses are used more commonly than planes in these situations. ICE told the AP that the only purpose of domestic flights that it facilitates is to transfer people between detention centers as needed.

Claims that pizza listings on Etsy are selling child pornography are baseless

CLAIM: Listings on Etsy selling downloads of pizza photos for thousands of dollars are just a disguise for pedaling child pornography.

THE FACTS: Etsy investigated the claims and found them baseless, a representative said. While no threat to child safety was established, the posts were removed from the online marketplace because they did not appear legitimate and had what seemed to be unreasonably high prices.

The listings appeared as the years-old conspiracy theory known as “pizzagate,” which posits that Democrats were harboring child sex slaves in a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor, has had a resurgence on social media.

Screenshots of a variety of listings from different accounts have been shared online, appearing to show digital image downloads being sold for thousands of dollars each, such as a close-up of a cheese pizza or a winking girl about to eat a pizza slice. As of Thursday, the listings had been removed from Etsy, but new ones were posted to the site on Friday. Many posts did not outright claim that the listings proved Etsy is party to illicit activities, instead hinting at a connection to those familiar with the “pizzagate” theory.

“Well, isn’t it weird, this is coming around again,” a man in a TikTok video says as screenshots of the listings appear behind him. “And remember what they told you last time, that it was just such a theory? And that how could you possibly believe pizza was related to this? How stupid. Hmm. Pretty pricey though.” As of Friday, the video had been viewed more than 643,000 times.

Others suggested that Etsy could be trafficking children through the listings. “Disturbing images are coming out of Etsy showing pizza being sold for thousands of dollars along with images of children with pizza,” reads a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Are kids being trafficked on Etsy?” In a statement to The Associated Press, Etsy, an online marketplace known for handmade and vintage items, said the claims are baseless and that it has found no evidence to suggest that the listings posed a risk to child safety. The statement also noted that the listings were removed because they seemed to have unreasonably high prices and did not appear to be legitimate. An image of a pepperoni pie priced at more than $10,000 was taken down after it was flagged to Etsy by the AP.

The “pizzagate” rumors were popular among supporters of Republican Donald Trump during his winning 2016 campaign for president. The conspiracy theory led a North Carolina man to travel to Washington and fire a rifle in a local pizza parlor where he believed children were being enslaved. Among the supposed evidence cited by proponents was that the eatery, Comet Ping Pong, was mentioned in some emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that were obtained by hackers. Conspiracy theorists tied this to the notion that “pizza” had been used online as a codeword for child sexual abuse material. No credible proof has been produced to support the “pizzagate” narrative. The false claims now spreading about Etsy are reminiscent of a baseless conspiracy theory from 2020, which alleged that retail giant Wayfair was using pricey storage cabinets to traffic children.

Video footage from the 2023 Army-Navy game was altered to add anti-Biden chant

CLAIM: A video shows the crowd at this year’s Army-Navy football game chanting “F— Joe Biden.”

THE FACTS: The video was edited to add the chant, which occurred at a concert in 2021.

Unedited footage of the game shows the crowd, including a large contingent of Army cadets, singing and bouncing to an EDM song oftenplayed at Army football games and other sportingevents. The altered video began spreading on social media following Saturday’s annual Army-Navy game. In the clip, Army cadets and others in the spirited crowd jump in unison while appearing to chant the disparaging phrase about U.S. President Joe Biden at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

“Entire Crowd at Army VS Navy Game Chants ‘F(asterisk)ck Joe Biden,’” reads one tweet that shared the edited footage. It had received approximately 37,000 likes and 11,000 shares as of Monday. But the footage was edited to add the chant. An unedited video of the same scene shows the cadets and other fans singing along to “Tsunami,” an EDM song released in 2013 by Canadian electronic music duo DVBBS and Borgeous, an American DJ. The track is oftenplayed at Army football games, as well as other athleticevents.

“It’s inaccurate, it is false — it is blatantly false,” Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press in reference to the erroneous claims.

Similar anti-Biden chants have been added to other footage of Biden, including his appearance at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement in May and multiple videos of his speeches. The audio added to the video currently spreading online is from a 2021 concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania, featuring the rock band Staind.