Can You Handle The Truth?: PolitiFact California Fact Checks Wildfire Misinformation

24 September 2020

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USA – Misinformation is continuing to spread on social media about the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington.

To talk about that, CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter Chris Nichols joins us for “Can You Handle The Truth?” a weekly conversation about his latest fact checks.

On false claims related to the start of West Coast wildfires

PolitiFact is finding even more rumors about the start of these fires. Last week, we reported that the FBI in Portland had debunked claims that Antifa was starting wildfires on the West Coast. The FBI even asked people to stop sharing misinformation on social media because these false reports were taking valuable time away from agencies fighting the fires.

This week, we found a new set of viral posts that blame a California man for lighting more than 30 fires this year. They show a mug shot of the man and call him “Mr. Climate Change.” That’s an effort to push back against what scientists agree is the contributing role climate change plays in making these fires worse. The problem with these posts is the man pictured has been incarcerated for the past two years, at a mental health facility for inmates in Stockton.

He was convicted of starting nine fires in Southern California two years ago, but he’s played no role in the fires this year. And so PolitiFact rated these claims False.

On a misleading map of the wildfires shared by actor James Woods

The actor James Woods and many other people shared a map that they suggested disproves claims that the fires are connected to climate change. The map shows fires stopping at the border with Canada.

Woods even tweeted “Hey, Governor Newsom, why does ‘climate change’ stop abruptly at the Canadian border?”

It turns out this map only uses U.S. fire data. And for the record, there have been wildfires in Canada this summer. PolitiFact also rated these claims False.

On a claim on Facebook about President Trump and wildfire aid to California

In August we fact-checked a widely shared Facebook post that alleged the president had denied fire aid to California but then helped Russia fight wildfires in Siberia. We rated that False when it popped up, but it is circulating again. Some of these really outlandish claims seem to have nine lives and just appear over and over again.

Just to recap: President Trump has repeatedly threatened to withhold federal fire assistance from California and he made a similar threat again last month. But he has always approved that aid. On Russia, it is true that Trump said last year that he offered Russia help with its fires in Siberia. We found no evidence that he actually followed through.

On how PolitiFact fact-checks misinformation on Facebook and other social media platforms

It’s no secret that the posts and information on Facebook, whether fact or fiction, can influence what people believe and how they act. We want to hold Facebook users accountable to the truth, especially during this election season. That’s why CapRadio’s PolitiFact California is focusing on Facebook to fact-check false news and misinformation, This includes posts ‘on the Facebook and Instagram platforms.’ Facebook does not decide what CapRadio should fact check, nor does it have a role in the ratings we select.

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