Fact-check 2022: Most-read VERIFY stories
VERIFY published hundreds of stories this year to help people distinguish between true and false information online. Here are the top five stories you read in 2022.
There was a lot of misinformation and some surprising truths that circulated online in 2022. VERIFY published hundreds of stories this year to help people distinguish between true and false information.
To look back on 2022, the VERIFY team reviewed which stories you read the most on our website. Here are the top five:
#5: No, 15,000 protesters in Iran were not sentenced to death
Following the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iranian police custody, protesters across the country demanded improvements to human rights and civil liberties. Amini was arrested on accusations of improperly wearing hijab, a head covering that Iranian law requires women to wear while in public.
Human rights groups estimated that the Iranian government detained more than 15,000 protesters. In November, several viral social media posts – including from celebrities like Peter Frampton, Sophie Turner and Viola Davis – claimed all 15,000 of those protesters had been sentenced to death, and warned of an impending mass execution.
While it’s true that an estimated 15,000 protesters had been detained in Iran, VERIFY found the posts shared on social media claiming they have all been sentenced to death were inaccurate.
The 15,000 number came from estimates by the United Nations and the Human Rights Activists News Agency of how many total people had been detained in Iran in connection with the protests.
But reporting indicates at the time the viral posts were sent, only one person had actually received a death sentence in connection with the protests. Several weeks later, in early December 2022, Iran said it executed a prisoner for a crime allegedly committed during the country’s ongoing nationwide protests, the first such death penalty carried out in the country.
Human rights experts warn that future death sentences could be handed down without warning or due process.
Iran Human Rights estimates as of Dec. 27, at least 476 protesters have been killed by security forces in Iran, and another 100 face death penalty charges or execution.
#4: No, you can’t steal up to $950 worth of merchandise in California without consequence under Prop 47
Proposition 47, a law enacted in California in 2014, was brought back into the public eye this year following a segment on Fox News.
Then-California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-District 6), who supports efforts to repeal Proposition 47, appeared on Fox News in February. (Kiley has since been elected to the US House.)
After Kiley’s appearance, some people on social media claimed the California law permits shoplifting and that shoplifting items worth less than $950 is not a crime.
While Proposition 47 did reduce the punishment for certain theft crimes, VERIFY found that you can’t steal up to $950 worth of merchandise in California without legal consequence.
The proposition reclassified certain theft offenses from felony charges to misdemeanors, according to California Courts. It created a new misdemeanor offense called “shoplifting,” which is punishable by up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both.
Shoplifting is defined under California’s penal code as “entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed $950.”
Before the passage of Proposition 47, shoplifters were usually charged under the state’s burglary laws, which carried felony penalties..
#3: Yes, you can test positive for COVID-19 on PCR tests for up to 12 weeks after infection
In December 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidance to say people infected with the virus only need to isolate themselves for five days if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving.
Some people were critical of the updated guidance because there wasn’t a recommendation for people to test negative for COVID-19 before ending their isolation. In response, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that one of the reasons there’s no negative test recommendation is because PCR tests “can stay positive for up to 12 weeks.”
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 involve a lab process that can detect the genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19. They are more sensitive than rapid antigen tests, meaning they are more likely to accurately identify a COVID-19 case.
While the high sensitivity is reliable for first diagnosing people with COVID-19, it’s far less reliable for determining if someone is still infectious with the virus. Fragments of the virus material can be detected three months later, according to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Health agencies in Canada and the United Kingdom also recognize that PCR tests can have positive results three months after a person was initially diagnosed with COVID-19.
#2: Yes, there is a way to check if you received a federal Pell grant
President Joe Biden announced in August that his administration would forgive up to $10,000 for many student borrowers, and up to $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants while in school. Student debt relief is currently on hold as court orders block the forgiveness program and the application is currently closed.
When student loan forgiveness was first announced, many people searched online for information about Pell Grants and how to check if they received one.
Federal Pell Grants are usually only awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need, the Department of Education says. They do not have to be repaid like a student loan would.
Student borrowers can check their entire federal student aid history on the Federal Student Aid website run by the US Department of Education. This includes their Pell Grant history. You’ll find this information on your aid summary page once you’ve logged into studentaid.gov with your FSA ID.
#1: Yes, warming up your car before driving in cold weather can damage the engine
VERIFY responded to dozens of comments and messages about this story that stemmed from a viewer question. The viewer wanted to know if letting your car warm up before hitting the road, a common practice for many driverscan potentially hurt the car’s engine.
It’s true that in cold weather, excessive idling – the practice of “warming up” your car – can cause some long-term damage to the engines of modern gas-powered vehicles, according to multiple sources, including Firestone Complete Auto Care, Chuck’s Auto Repair and Smart Motors Toyota. It’s not the worst thing you can do for your engine, but there’s nothing positive that comes from it – except a warm cabin.
Engines used to need to warm up before driving in cold temperatures, but that’s no longer true for most vehicles made after 1980.
Instead of waiting for your car to warm up in the winter, most manufacturers recommend driving off gently after about 30 seconds to a minute, because the engine warms up faster when the car is being driven.
But, for electric vehicle owners, the above information doesn’t apply.