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No, Hurricane Irma looters didn’t attack Richard Branson – and other fake storm news

British billionaire Richard Branson rode out Irma on his Caribbean island – unharmed by looters, despite online rumors.
British billionaire Richard Branson rode out Irma on his Caribbean island – unharmed by looters, despite online rumors. Wikimedia Commons

Billionaire Richard Branson hasn’t been attacked by looters. Hurricane Irma did not hit Florida with twin tornadoes. Storm-ravaged communities are not being swarmed by scammers posing as utility workers. And that photo of flooding in downtown Miami actually shows the Miami River.

As with any compelling news event, online hoaxers are working overtime in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, now downgraded to a tropical storm and headed towards Georgia.

Here are some of the newer hoaxes circulating online.

▪  A story erroneously reports that billionaire Sir Richard Branson was attacked by gunmen at his Necker Island home after the hurricane. The story, on a site calling itself Houston News, includes photos of Branson’s purported injuries—which are actually from a 2016 bicycle crash. Branson rode out the storm at his island home and has been posting photos of the devastation Monday on Twitter.

▪  A video posted to Twitter purporting to show downtown Miami under water actually depicts the mouth of the Miami River.

▪  Reports across Florida tell of fake utility workers taking advantage of unsuspecting homeowners whose power is out. But according to JEA, a utility in Jacksonville, Fla., the rumor about the scammers is the actual scam.

“It’s false,” Gerri Boyce, a JEA spokeswoman, told the Florida Times-Union Monday morning. “The same thing is being said in other areas. It’s a Facebook rumor.”

And though the Miami-Dade police department warned residents on Twitter to ask for the ID of any utility worker, the department confirmed this morning that it hadn’t gotten any reports from actual victims of such a scam.

▪  A video posted to Twitter and Facebook claiming to show a double tornado approaching Florida dates to at least 2007 and may be from a storm near the Isle of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea in 2006.

▪  A 2005 movie titled “Category 7: The End of the World” did not predict the arrival of hurricanes named Harvey and Irma. The only storm to have a name in the film was called Eduardo.

Even President Donald Trump’s director of social media fell for a fake news story. And FEMA had to create a special page just to debunk rumors, including one that Irma had sucked up sharks from the ocean a la “Sharknado.” Hoaxers were busy at work even before Irma hit Florida, of course, posting mislabeled videos of devastation in the Caribbean and other bogus news.

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