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

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:

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Target’s Pride collection features ‘tuck-friendly’ swimsuits for adults, not kids

CLAIM: Target’s Pride collection features a bathing suit for kids that is labeled “tuck-friendly.”

THE FACTS: The “tuck-friendly” swimsuits are only offered in adult sizes, according to a spokesperson for the company and Target’s website. Kids’ swimsuits in the collection do not feature this label. But the store's seasonal collection of clothes for Pride month has been the subject of several misleading videos in recent weeks. Many of the posts criticizing Target have also urged people to boycott the company, following similar threats and transphobic commentary from conservative social media personalities towards brands including Bud Light and Nike over promotional campaigns featuring transgender people. Posts criticizing Target shared photos or videos of either a one-piece swimsuit with a bright pink, orange, green and blue colorblock pattern, or black swim bottoms with colorful line stitches. Both feature a circular tag that reads, “Tuck-Friendly Construction,” and “Extra Crotch Coverage.” “Did you know @Target also sells ‘tuck-friendly’ bathing suits for children in the Pride section? Well now you do,” reads one post sharing a photo of the tag on Twitter. The post has received more than 4,000 likes. However, the swimsuits labeled “tuck-friendly” are only in adult sizes, and are not available in kids’ sizes, Kayla Castaneda, a spokesperson for Target, told the AP. Both the colorful one-piece and black swim bottoms seen in the photos and videos online are clearly labeled on Target’s website as adult swimsuits. Both pages list the products as coming in “general adult sizing” and offer adult XS as the smallest size for sale. “The ‘tuck-friendly’ swim suits are for adults only,” Castaneda said. The kids’ swimsuits in the Pride collection are not the same design or construction and do not have the same label, Castaneda confirmed. At a Target in New York City’s downtown Brooklyn neighborhood that the AP visited on Monday, the same adult swimsuits shown on social media featured the “tuck-friendly” tag, while a kids’ black swimskirt for sale instead had a tag reading: “Thoughtfully Fit on Multiple Body Types and Gender Expressions.” The Pride apparel for kids, adults and pets was located together at the front of the store, in an area often used for seasonal or limited-edition collections, and not in the children’s section. After the intense online backlash and some reports of in-store confrontations, Target removed some LGBTQ+-themed products and relocated Pride Month displays to the back of stores in certain Southern locations. Target declined to specify which items it was removing.

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Video doesn’t show banned books being removed from Florida school, officials say

CLAIM: Video taken by school staffer shows scores of banned books being removed from a middle school in Broward County, Florida.

THE FACTS: Officials in the school district say the books are being removed as part of a routine weeding out of old materials that coincides with a library renovation project, not because they were banned. The local teacher’s union and the state education department confirm it is unrelated to any bans and the old books are being replaced with newer ones. The short clip in question shows a woman walking through a school hallway lined with large boxes filled to the brim with books. “The state just came last week and decided which books were appropriate or inappropriate,” the woman says in the clip as she and two other school staffers hold up some of the materials and read off their titles, which range from “Hispanic American, Texas and the Mexican War” to “Black Eagles: African Americans in Aviation.” The video comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis, who launched his campaign for president Wednesday, has controversially championed policies allowing greater censorship, including a law that makes it easier for parents to challenge books and instructional materials in schools. “WATCH THIS VIDEO,” wrote one Twitter user. “A Florida public school staff member, risking her job, documented a glimpse of what’s currently happening at her school.” But county and state education officials maintain the school shown in the video — McNicol Middle School in Hollywood — is actually in the process of refreshing nearly its entire book collection, not getting rid of materials banned or deemed inappropriate. Keyla Concepción, a spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools, said the library collection is being overhauled as the school media center is undergoing a roughly two-year renovation. She said the new books are slated to be in place when the center reopens this summer. John Sullivan, another district spokesperson, added that nearly 90% of the library collection was more than 15 years old and the average date of publication was 1997. “The books in question were not removed at the direction of the state,” he wrote in an email. “It is the national standard that school library specialists review and ‘weed’ books from their collections to ensure the material is current and up-to-date.” Sullivan pointed to collection maintenance standards from the American Library Association as well as a 2000 legal settlement that dealt with educational equity issues within the district, as the primary drivers for the collection update. He added that the district has been assisting dozens of other schools with updating their collections. “Due to the current climate in education across the nation surrounding library media practices, we understand how those not familiar with the weeding of books from school collections may confuse this process,” Sullivan wrote. The staffer who posted the video didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week, but said in a subsequent post that she was asked to take down the original post after she was provided with the reasons for the book removal. Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, also backed up the district’s explanation. She acknowledged there have been recent efforts by district parents to ban certain books from the school but said this doesn’t appear related. “Those books were purged due to being outdated or worn out,” Fusco wrote in a text message. “Nothing was banned.” State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz dismissed the staffer’s initial video, too. “Broward County has confirmed to me that this is simply an end-of-year book inventory,” he tweeted Monday. “It has nothing to do with vetting any books. This video is completely false and a sad attempt to disrupt our educational environment.” But while the Broward County incident doesn’t appear to be a case of censorship, book bans are a growing concern in DeSantis’ Florida, stressed Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which is focused on library censorship issues. This week, “The Hill We Climb,” a poem written by Amanda Gorman for President Joe Biden’s inauguration, was placed on a restricted list at a South Florida elementary school after one parent complained. “The entire state of Florida is on our watch list,” said Caldwell-Stone. “We are aware that censorship is occurring. We are deeply concerned about states like Florida.”

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.

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Phones given to US immigrants have limited uses

CLAIM: The U.S. government gives immigrants who cross the country’s border illegally smartphones with unlimited texting and internet access.

THE FACTS: Immigration and Customs Enforcement does give some immigrants phones. However, they can only access an app called SmartLink, which is used to monitor immigrants after they cross the border, according to the agency, the company that makes the phones and an immigration expert. The devices, used by ICE since 2018, are not connected to a cellular network and cannot be used to browse the internet, make unauthorized phone calls, or access apps other than SmartLink. Posts sharing the claims generally include a video first tweeted by a reporter for the Washington Examiner, who said it shows migrants boarding a flight from Brownsville, Texas, to Dallas. Even though the reporter’s tweet does not mention smartphones, other posts sharing the video do. “Illegals waiting to fly out of Brownsville to Dallas - paid for by US taxpayers while on their taxpayer paid Galaxy 10 smart phones with unlimited text and internet,” reads one tweet. 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 uses — not the “unlimited” messaging and web browsing suggested by the posts. A spokesperson for ICE pointed to the agency’s webpage describing the program, which says certain participants are “issued a device capable solely of running the SmartLINK application” if they don’t have a personal phone that supports the app when they enroll. They must return the device if they acquire their own phone, are reassigned to a different technology or are no longer in the program. “SmartLINK is intended for the sole purpose of providing immigration compliance and case management services to ATD participants,” the page states. It goes on to explain that this includes verifying the location from which participants complete scheduled check-ins, reminding participants about court hearings and providing a database of community services. The phones are manufactured by BI Incorporated, an electronic monitoring technologies company. BI is a subsidiary of The GEO Group, a private prison company that runs immigration detention facilities for ICE under other contracts. Monica Hook, a spokesperson for The GEO Group, told the AP that claims about the phones having unlimited messaging and internet are “categorically false.” “BI Mobile is a hand-held communications device that comes with the BI SmartLink application pre-installed,” she wrote in an email. “BI Mobile is not a smartphone and does not have the associated capabilities of traditional, consumer smartphones such as browsing the internet, disabling device settings, and unauthorized calls and texts.” Rebekah Wolf, an expert in immigration detention and border issues who works as a policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, confirmed that these phones are “limited” in their capabilities. “BI controls what phone numbers it can call, so it’s not just a sort of free for all,” she told the AP. “It has to be Wi-Fi enabled because that’s how SmartLink the app works. But it doesn’t have software on it to, like, go to Google Chrome. Like the entire interface of the phone is just the app. So like, yes, you can call in because you can call your ICE officer.” Wolf has been to briefings with BI and the Department of Homeland Security where the use of these phones is discussed. She also works with local case management providers who interact directly with immigrants in the Alternatives to Detention program. More than 257,000 active Alternative to Detention participants were using the SmartLink app at the end of 2022, according to ICE statistics. As of early May 2023, that number had gone down to approximately 224,000. Critics of SmartLink have raised concerns about issues such as privacy and whether the app is necessary for immigrants who have no criminal history, the AP has reported.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.

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NASA didn’t publish study on snake plants providing life-saving oxygen

CLAIM: A NASA study found that six to eight snake plants in a room with no airflow is enough for human survival. The agency therefore recommends 15 to 18 plants for an 1,800-square-foot home.

THE FACTS: The agency did not reach those conclusions or offer such recommendations, a spokesperson confirmed. The claim may be a distortion of a 1989 NASA report focused on whether indoor plants can help clean the air, not sustain human life. Social media users shared a Facebook video advancing the false claim nonetheless. “According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, the Snake Plant is so effective in producing oxygen that if you were locked in a sealed room with no airflow (yikes!), you would be able to survive with just 6-8 plants in it,” text on the video reads. “NASA recommends 15 to 18 medium-to-large size plants for a 1,800 square-foot home for optimum air quality.” But the agency didn’t issue such a study or guidance. “NASA has not made these claims or recommendations,” NASA spokesperson Rob Margetta told The Associated Press in an email. A small team at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi did publish a report more than three decades ago that looked at common household plants and their ability to remove some household toxins from sealed chambers, Margetta noted. That 1989 report, “ Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement,” was done in conjunction with a landscaping group and focused on plants’ ability to filter out contaminants in such settings. The report did assert that plants — including snake plants, referred to in the report as a mother-in-law’s tongue — can help improve air quality. It didn’t, however, evaluate using them to produce enough oxygen to sustain human life in precarious situations. The “research was focused on sealed areas with limited airflow, not typical residential or commercial spaces,” Margetta added. “Since the study’s publication, its findings have often been misinterpreted or misapplied.” Some subsequent research has cast doubt on plants’ ability to improve air quality in normal indoor environments. And while plants use a process known as photosynthesis to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, they aren’t as efficient as the social media post suggests. “The reality is that the rate at which they do these processes is much lower than what you need to actually support a human,” said Berkley Walker, an assistant professor of plant biochemistry at Michigan State University. Using a generous and general estimate, Walker said, it would likely take leaf area the size of a one-car garage to produce enough oxygen that a human requires in one day. Even then, that’s assuming constant, ideal conditions — such as continuous sunlight. There’s no evidence that snake plants perform at a higher level than other plants, let alone one to support the theory shared online, Walker said.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in New Jersey contributed this report.

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