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  1. Florida Politics

Fact-checking wild (and fake) news about Florida on Facebook

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio makes a point as Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy listens during the U.S. Senate debate on Monday at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio makes a point as Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy listens during the U.S. Senate debate on Monday at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
Published Jul. 10, 2017

For a state well-known as a hotbed for bizarre true occurrences, Florida is the setting for a healthy number of fake news stories, too.

We've been fact-checking fake news stories in cooperation with Facebook for several months, and there's been no shortage of Florida fabrications. The examples involve cannibals, celebrity relocations and made-up quotes from real politicians.

Here's a look at some of the stories set in the Sunshine State that we've debunked and rated Pants on Fire.

Fake Rubio quote returns

Bloggers recently revived an 18-month-old fake news story that greatly distorts Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's position on abortion.

"Rubio: 'Rape victims should be in custody if there is suspicion that they're planning abortion,' " reads the headline on USPOLN.com.

USPOLN.com (short for U.S. political news) describes itself as a "hybrid news/satire platform." But the May 23 story talks about a statement the Florida senator allegedly made at a New Hampshire town hall during his presidential campaign.

USPOLN.com made up the following flippant, over-the-top quote and attributed it to Rubio: "I'm just totally against the whole shebang, I won't deny it. I am appalled by how insensitive and self-centered rape victims can sometimes be. I mean, sure, okay, you were just violated in the most intimate way, and sure, you had to undergo a detailed physical examination afterwards, but that doesn't mean you have the right to kill an innocent baby regardless of what it's (sic) father has done to you, come on."

Reporters and debate moderators asked Rubio about his position on abortion and rape victims on several occasions during his primary campaign. Rubio opposes rape and incest exemptions for abortion. He never said rape victims considering abortion should be jailed.

In fact, Rubio has co-sponsored legislation that bans abortions but includes exemptions for victims of rape and incest. He said he does not support these exemptions but recognizes that they are necessary to get more support for the legislation.

Celebrity rumors run rampant

Hold your tears for Scott Baio, the actor of Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi fame. While you might have read that he died in a plane crash en route to Palm Beach, he didn't.

The fake news site Daily USA Update described his death in an article datelined June 1.

The next day, Baio posted a photo on Twitter, flexing a bicep in support of American troops as part of a USO campaign called Flex4Forces.

Baio is a huge fan of President Donald Trump, who also made it into the false report.

"Scott Baio, 56, was killed when the single-engine Cessna he was in crashed into the side of a hill in Louisiana," the article stated. "Baio was headed to Mar-a-Lago to barbecue shrimp and play gold with President Trump."

They didn't even bother to spell "golf" correctly.

There was more fake news involving Casselberry, located 10 miles north of downtown Orlando.

In an undated post, kbr31.com announced Leonardo DiCaprio told an undisclosed magazine in an interview that he would be moving to Casselberry because he's looking for a "big change" in his life.

The fake quote from DiCaprio went like this: "I'm just tired of the L.A. lifestyle and I feel like, at this point in my life, I'd rather just live in a place full of real, genuine people," the post quotes him as saying. "I've been to Casselberry, Fla., a couple of times over the years and the people there are real . . . they're genuine, and yeah every community has its problems but the people there are good, decent people and they care about their community. Those are the things I find most important in deciding where to live."

This isn't the first time DiCaprio is quoted as saying this, nor is Casselberry the celebrity's only alleged haven from the "L.A. lifestyle." Fake news sites have announced DiCaprio's moves to Gilroy, Calif.; Woodstock, Ill.; Tempe, Ariz.; Warren, Mich.; Swedesboro, N.J., and even to small towns overseas, including Naas, Ireland, and Guildford, England.

Tall cannibalism tale

TheMiamiGazette.com website posted a story on May 30 with the headline, "Cannibals arrested in Florida claim eating human flesh cures diabetes and depression."

The article said "police in Vernal Heights, Fla.," made the arrests of three men.

The gruesome story, which had 254,000 likes on Facebook and spread to other websites, is pure fiction.

There is no Vernal Heights in Florida. The Miami Gazette is "an entertainment and satire web publication," according to a buried disclaimer. And there are no reports of cannibals caught eating flesh to cure diabetes and depression.

That would be big news, if true.

Lauren Carroll, Jon Greenberg, Manuela Tobias and Gegham Vardanyan contributed. Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/Florida

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