July 18, 2019

Around the world, fact-checkers are popularly known for their work fighting political misinformation. But for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, many of them have prepared lists of moon-related debunks you just can’t miss.

Now it’s your turn to check out the work of some of the International Fact-Checking Network’s verified signatories, and make sure that the information you’re consuming and spreading about the moon isn’t too out of this world.

In Spain, Newtral launched a website called Moontiras, (“Moon lies”) which includes some crazy hoaxes about “lunar trees.” It seems that online audiences in the country fell pray to false claims on Twitter about aliens hopping down to Earth from the moon to plant trees.

The fact-checkers did their research and explained that Apollo 14’s team took seeds with them to the moon and back. These seeds were then planted on Earth, and could be called “lunar trees,” though the only special thing about them is that they were exposed to a different atmosphere as seedlings. No aliens, no flying trees.

Newtral also gave a false rating to the claim that more babies are born during a full moon. They used data from a research study conducted by the Mountain Area Health Education Center that tracked 564,039 births over five years, and found that there is no predictable influence of the lunar cycle on deliveries or birth complications.

In the United States, Poynter-owned PolitiFact published a lengthy article about how hoaxes surrounding the Apollo 11 moon landing have persevered through time. One example is an image that went viral on Facebook in  2017. It claims to show a mismatch between Neil Armstrong’s space boots and his famous monoprint, supposedly proving that the whole expedition to the satellite was nothing more than a made-up hoax. But, as PolitiFact points out, these pictures are incorrectly identified. The first isn’t of Armstrong’s boots, and the second is of Buzz Aldrin’s footprint. NASA has already provided official photographs showing that Armstrong’s boots and footprints match.

Lead Stories, also in the United States, called attention to the resurfacing of another old hoax. It was never true that “top officials of the Chinese Space Program” publicly expressed their skepticism toward the moon landing; PolitiFact debunked this in 2017. The false article cites thousands of photographs taken by the Chinese Yutu moon rover, which supposedly proved that there was “no trace” of the Apollo landing, but Yutu wasn’t anywhere near the Apollo landing site. This claim got a “Pants on Fire” from PolitiFact, the worst rating on its scale.

Marteen Schenk of Lead Stories warns against false images that claim to have been taken from the moon. One went viral on Facebook on Monday, with a caption that read “A view of Earth from The Moon taken by NASA.” That photo turned out to be a digital composite made by artist Romolo Tavani.

Some people could argue it is difficult to identify fake photos, but Schenk gives some tips:

“The most obvious one — that is often overlooked — is to simply check the comments under the photo. In many cases, someone has already found a link to a fact check and posted it right there. The second thing you can do is a Google search, preferably with the same words used in the description of the image or video and maybe in combination with phrases like ‘fake news’ or ‘not real.’  Finally, you can also try to upload the image to sites like images.google.com or tineye.com, where you can see if pictures were used before on other sites.”

Another suggestion from Schenk is to report to fact-checking platforms all stories, photos and videos that might not look real. Fact-checkers are usually ready to deploy their knowledge and do their work.

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

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