FactCheck Social Media

COVID-19 conspiracy about Hollywood arrests, CEO exits gets an F for “Fiction”

2020-03-20 14:54:39

The Statement

Countries around the world have closed their borders as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates. In the midst of these measures, rumours about a vast global conspiracy are being shared on Facebook.

AAP FactCheck found two Facebook posts implicating Hollywood identities Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Harvey Weinstein in the conspiracy. The posts, while containing minor differences, make the same claims.

A March 16 post claims Canadian prime minster Justin Trudeau “was served a criminal indictment by the U.S. for corporate and financial crimes,” and that actor Hanks was “arrested 48hrs ago for Pedophilia and he is currently being kept in a Hotel room in Australia”.

A March 15 post says Italy has shutdown airports “as over 80 Vatican and financial officials have been served same [sic] criminal indictments” and that “convicted Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein agreed to a deal in exchange for his testimony against hundreds of top Hollywood celebrities”.

Both posts then claim “CEOs of some major world corporations have been indicted/arrested and some forced to resign all in the last 30-60 days” and that the “Lab-created Corona Virus is a cover up for mass mandatory vaccination agenda”.

The final three paragraphs of both posts claim that “Trump will win 2020 elections”, “Some top religious leaders will be arrested or forced to resign”, and “H5N1 bird flu will be intentionally released this week out of China”.

The two Facebook posts have collectively been viewed more than 400,000 times, shared over 1,400 times and have received over 700 likes.

Facebook post making claims about Justin Trudeau and others.
 A Facebook post claims Canada’s PM and actor Tom Hanks have been arrested for various offences. 

The Analysis

COVID-19 has caused major losses on global stock markets and forced entire countries into quarantine. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference on March 18 that the ongoing crisis will last for “at least six months”.

As the crisis goes on, Facebook posts sharing false information and conspiracy theories, like the March 15 and 16 Facebook posts, are being shared widely.

The March 15 post, from an Australian user, claims: “This morning, at 4:30AM, our Prime Minister was served a criminal indictment by the US for corporate & financial crimes”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not been served a criminal indictment by criminal prosecutors in the United States. Since March 15 Prime Minister Morrison has appeared at press conferences and given interviews on Australia’s response to the coronavirus.

The March 16 post from a user from New Zealand, based in the US, makes the same claim about another head of state: “This morning at 4:30 a.m., Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was served a criminal indictment by the U.S. for corporate and financial crimes”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not been arrested. On March 16 he held a press conference outlining Canada’s ongoing response to COVID-19. Trudeau was photographed giving the address in front of his Ottawa residence, where he has been self isolating after his wife tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on March 16, 2020. 

The March 15 post goes on to say that “Tom Hanks was arrested 48hrs ago for Pedophilia and he is currently being kept in a Hotel room in Australia refusing to fly back to USA.”

Tom Hanks was not arrested for pedophilia on March 14, or at any other time. On March 12 the actor posted a message on Twitter telling his fans that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for COVID-19. The couple were released from a Gold Coast hospital on March 17, but remain in self isolation as they wait to be cleared of the potentially deadly virus, according to their son Chet Hanks.

Both posts then claim “Italy’s airports have been completely shut down as over 80 of Vatican and financial officials have been served same criminal indictments for financial crime, pedophilia, child trafficking and sex abuse.”

Several major airports remain open in Italy, according to the Australian Smart Traveller website. Milan’s airport (Milano Malpensa) was listing planes inbound as of March 20. Some regional airports, however, suspended flights in accordance with a ministerial decree — including the Toscana Aeroporti in Florence.

AAP FactCheck found no evidence to support the claim of Vatican officials arrested. Any such news in the closely watched internationally recognised independent city-state, which maintains its own criminal justice system separate from Italy, would be widely reported.

Both posts then state: “Convicted Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein agreed to a deal in exchange for his testimony against hundreds of top Hollywood celebrities… Instead of a 55-year sentence, he only received a 23-year sentence.”

Mr Weinstein’s trial and conviction was a closely reported legal event and AAP FactCheck found nothing to support the claim of a supposed deal. Mr Weinstein was found guilty of sexual assault and rape in February and in March was sentenced to 23 years in prison by the New York State Supreme Court. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recommended a maximum sentence of 29 years for the convictions. The Los Angeles District Attorney charged Weinstein with another four charges, he is yet to face court over the allegations.

The posts also say Weinstein’s alleged plea deal included testimony against Oprah Winfrey among other famous figures. TV host Winfrey  addressed the rumour and videos purporting to show her arrest in a Twitter post: “It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world”.

The post then goes on to say: “The lab-created Corona virus was a cover-up for the mass mandatory vaccination agenda.”

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked claims that that Covid-19 was created in a lab. Regarding the unsupported claim that the “Corona virus” is a “cover-up for the mass mandatory vaccination agenda”, there is currently no COVID-19  vaccine, nor any mass vaccination effort. While trials are underway there is not expected to be a vaccine for 12 to 18 months.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook posts to be false. The claim that Canada’s Justin Trudeau has been arrested is false and also appears to be made in relation to Australia’s prime minister – also falsely. Hollywood’s Tom Hanks has not been arrested. There is no evidence to support the claim that Harvey Weinstein made a special deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against famous figures including Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey herself has debunked claims of her arrest. There is no evidence of a mass arrest of Vatican officials and while most of Italy’s airports have been shut down, some are still operating.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/