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Amazon Fires to Olive Garden Lies: This Week in Fake News

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A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media — you probably even saw some of these yourself.

Here’s the truth:

CLAIM: Photo shows a jaguar being rescued after throwing itself in the water during recent fires in the Amazon.

THE FACTS: The photo, which has circulated widely on social media as a record number of wildfires burn in Brazil, was taken in 2016 by Brazilian photographer None Mangueira as part of a project to save jaguars in the Amazon. It shows a Brazilian army soldier swimming with a jaguar in the middle of the Rio Negro in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.

Mangueira told The Associated Press that the jaguar, Jiquitaia, was adopted by the army after hunters killed his mother. Soldiers who raised Jiquitaia took him to swim every day. He was 2 years old in the picture.

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“It has nothing to do with the fires,” Mangueira said.

The project, Jaguars in the Amazon, was created by the Military Command of the Amazon, a branch of the Brazilian army. It seeks to promote the preservation of the species in that area.

The Amazon provides the largest contiguous area of habitat for jaguars and is considered key to their survival.

Mangueira said the photo has been wrongly identified before and used without her authorization. In June 2016, the photo of Jiquitaia was wrongly identified as being Juma, a 9-year-old jaguar shot dead by a soldier after participating in an Olympic torch event in Manaus.

She posted on her Facebook page about the misuse of the photo in 2016: “Here’s an alert for us photographers about the bad faith of third parties. Protect you projects, protect your images! Help me spread the truth!”

CLAIM: The Amazon rainforest — “the lungs of the Earth” — produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen.

THE FACTS: Scientists say while the Amazon is important to the world’s ecosystem, it does not produce 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. In fact, the region absorbs the same amount of oxygen it produces.

The 20 percent figure circulated widely this month as concerns grew around fires burning in the Amazon. It was passed on social media platforms, cited by politicians and quoted by the media, including The Associated Press.

The reality, according to experts, is that forests, including the Amazon, absorb roughly the same amount of oxygen as they produce. While plants do produce oxygen through photosynthesis, experts explained, they also absorb it to grow, as do animals and microbes.

“Even if all plants in the Amazon stopped doing photosynthesis, we would not notice,” Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a research organization focused on climate change, told The Associated Press. “It would take millions of years for the atmosphere to run out of oxygen.”

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Still, that doesn’t mean the fires aren’t an issue for the planet. The Amazon plays a key role in draining heat-trapping carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere. It’s estimated the Amazon takes in almost 2 billion tons a year of CO2, making it key to preventing climate change.

Scott Denning, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, told The Associated Press that much of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean. Plants, such as phytoplankton, have contributed to breathable oxygen through photosynthesis for millions of years.

Denning said he has a theory about how the 20 percent figure might have originated, citing a study published in Science Magazine in 2010, which found the Amazon accounts for 20 percent of land photosynthesis.

Among those who used the false figure was French President Emmanuel Macron, who tweeted on Aug. 22 his demand that world leaders at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, discuss what he called an emergency.

“Our house is burning,” he tweeted. “Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!”

Ultimately, the Group of Seven nations pledged $20 million from the group.

CLAIM: Video shows a helicopter setting fire to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

THE FACTS: The video shows a helicopter participating in an effort to contain a wildfire in the Canadian province of British Columbia in August 2018. The video was shared on Facebook and YouTube, falsely identified as showing a helicopter setting fire to the Amazon rainforest.

Tom Arduini, owner of Arduini Helicopters in Williams Lake, British Columbia, told The Associated Press he was flying the helicopter featured in the video. He said fire was being sprayed from the helicopter onto a forest fire below as part of a tactic called back burning, where fires are intentionally set in dry areas to keep a wildfire from spreading.

“The area set on fire is known as the fire guard,” Arduini said. “If you don’t do it, the fire will continue to burn.”

The video was filmed southwest of Quesnel, British Columbia. There was another helicopter flying overhead filming the crew.

Arduini posted the video on the company’s Facebook page on Aug. 22, 2018, with the caption: “Busy again this year with firefighting. This time fighting fire with fire!”

He said the video was taken a few days before it was published.

The video has been used with false claims before on social media. In November 2018, as deadly wildfires burned in California, it was posted on YouTube claiming to show a “helicopter caught causing California fires.”

CLAIM: Olive Garden is “funding” President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

THE FACTS: Social media users began recirculating the false claim on Twitter early this week, encouraging users to boycott the chain restaurant. Olive Garden responded with a tweet stating that the information was incorrect and that neither the Olive Garden nor Darden Restaurants, Inc., its parent company, contributes to presidential candidates.

Darden operates several restaurant chains, including LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze.

Olive Garden, an Italian-themed restaurant, first addressed the claim on Aug.9 after a tweet, which got more than 500,000 likes, included the company on a list of places supporting Trump’s re-election.

“We did send a message to our restaurants to address the inaccurate information in case they got questions from guests,” Meagan Bernstein, an Olive Garden spokeswoman, said in an email to the AP.

Did you see these stories shared on social media this week?

The company tweeted Sunday to clarify that Darden does not donate to candidates on the national level. They posted the information after a tweet emerged stating: “Olive Garden is funding Trump’s re-election in 2020. It would be terrible if you shared this and Olive Garden lost business.”

In the 2018 election cycle, all contributions to candidates from Darden Restaurants were from individuals, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and runs OpenSecrets.org.

For Darden Restaurants, the site includes a disclaimer that says Darden did not donate the money itself.

The false claim about Olive Garden follows an internet campaign earlier this month that called for a boycott of the luxury gym Equinox and cycling studio SoulCycle after it was announced that the owner of the companies, Stephen Ross, was throwing a fundraiser for Trump.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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