There was a lot of misinformation and some surprising truths in 2021. VERIFY has published hundreds of stories this year to help people distinguish between true and false information.
To look back on 2021, the VERIFY team reviewed which stories you read the most. Here’s a look at the top five stories:
The Olympics story you read the most was about two runners from Namibia who were disqualified from the 400-meter race at the Tokyo Games because their natural testosterone levels were too high.
The rule restricting natural testosterone levels for female runners was put into place by World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field competitions. It only applies to women competing in races between 400 meters and one mile. World Athletics says the rule is about “leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”
The two Namibian runners, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were expected to compete for medals in the 400-meter race because they had posted two of the three fastest times in the world heading into the Olympics.
Although they weren’t allowed to compete in the 400-meter race, Mboma and Masilingi’s Olympic dreams were not dashed. They also qualified for the 200-meter sprint, which they could compete in because the testosterone rule does not apply to shorter races. Mboma won a silver medal in the 200-meter, while Masilingi finished in sixth place.
In the fall, news broke that actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of “Rust” that caused the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.
In the immediate aftermath of the news, a manipulated screenshot of an excerpt from what appeared to be a story from Variety made the rounds on social media. One of the sentences in the excerpt said, “According to an on-set source, the director had called for another take when Baldwin (jokingly) remarked, ’Another take? How about I just [expletive] shoot the both of ya?’ before firing on the pair.”
We verified that the quote was not real, and the image was edited. One of the authors of the Variety story told VERIFY that the sentence pictured in the screenshots was never reported in the story.
“We didn’t report it or write it and we have no reason to believe it is remotely true,” enterprise reporter Gene Maddaus told VERIFY.
While the omicron variant of COVID-19 currently dominates our news feeds, the third most popular story of the year was about the delta variant.
When cases of the delta variant began spiking in the summer, people went to Google to search if delta variant symptoms were different than original COVID-19 symptoms.
We verified that, yes, there is a slight difference in symptoms commonly linked to the delta variant. Still, many of the symptoms from the original COVID-19 strain have also been reported with the delta variant.
Dr. Gabe Kelen, professor and chair at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said people sick with the delta variant are more likely to get headaches, sore throats and runny noses than people infected with previous strains of COVID-19.
Baton Rouge General, a Louisiana hospital, said cough, loss of smell, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also less common with the delta variant.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced plans to require apps like Venmo, PayPal and CashApp to report large amounts of money that were sent on their platforms. That prompted a viewer to ask if people who received $600 or more on money apps would be sent a 1099 tax form.
Currently, the IRS requires apps used to transfer money to report people who receive more than $20,000 and have more than 200 transactions in a year.
That’s set to change next year because the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 lowers the threshold to just $600 and removes the minimum transaction requirement.
Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, explains the law doesn’t change what is or isn’t taxable. It just reports more data to the IRS to keep track of earnings from gig work that’s often paid through money apps.
So, it’s true people will be sent a 1099-K tax form for using money apps after receiving $600 or more. The change is set to go into effect in March, although Congress is considering a plan to raise the reporting limit to $10,000.
Our most-read story was a bit off the beaten path but clearly resonated with readers.
The Guardian published a story in November with the headline, “A deadly parasite that burrows into the body through bare feet could be multiplying in this US community.” The story was aggregated by several U.S. publishers, including iHeartRadio. That led to a viewer asking VERIFY if the parasite really exists and is in the U.S.
We verified that, yes, a parasite that enters people through bare feet, called Strongyloides, is in the U.S.
Dr. Rojelio Mejia, an infectious disease physician-scientist at Baylor College of Medicine, said the parasite is found throughout the world, primarily in countries with tropical climates that have poor sanitation systems. In the U.S., Mejia said the parasite has been found in the Appalachian Mountains, Alabama and Texas.
The parasite is transmitted to humans through the soil. Strongyloides larvae, which are microscopic, often penetrate the feet of humans who walk on soil contaminated with sewage or fecal matter. The larvae then move through different parts of the human body, eventually settling in the intestinal system where they reproduce.
Most people infected with the parasite don’t experience any symptoms, but infection can be deadly for others, particularly those with suppressed immune systems.
More from VERIFY: Fact Sheet: COVID-19 omicron variant