Between Sunday and Monday, high profile Republicans, including President Donald Trump, shared at least four deceptive videos online.
One that got widespread was a fake video about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden posted on the Twitter account of Steve Scalise, the whip of the minority of the House. Following an outcry, including a person in the video who put words in their mouths to distort what Biden said, Twitter took the measures that were taken in such cases, calling the video “media manipulation”.
However, the rigged media label is just that – a label that appears below the video when users look at the specific tweet it was applied to. It’s small and may be overlooked by users, and although some users may take a break before sharing a particular video, it won̵
Scalise or its employees posted the same video on Facebook, but the company took no action and refused to comment. (Scalise eventually picked up the video itself due to the outcry from Twitter and Facebook.)
Another misinformation video was shared on Twitter by White House social media director Dan Scavino on Sunday evening. The video has been edited so that it incorrectly looks like Biden fell asleep during a television interview. At the time Twitter labeled it tampered with, roughly 18 hours after Scavino tweeted it – and at least 24 hours after the video was shared thanks to tweets from other users on the platform – it had roughly 1.3 million views. On Monday evening, Twitter completely removed the video, not because it was misinformation, but because of a copyright claim. By then it had 2.4 million views.
While the effectiveness of the Manipulated Media label and other such labels is unclear at best, Twitter seems increasingly willing to use them to challenge misinformation from politicians. Although Facebook has hired a global network of fact-checkers, they are largely banned from scrutinizing politicians, a policy CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vigorously defended.
However, Facebook has shown itself willing to make some exceptions to this policy, as well as to Zuckerberg’s current line that a company like his shouldn’t be an arbiter of the truth.
Facebook says it will not tolerate any misinformation that it finds could cause harm, such as false claims about Covid-19. A few weeks ago, the company removed a video published by Trump in which he falsely claimed during an interview that children were “almost immune” to the virus. Twitter also removed the video.
None of the companies appear ready to apply their medical misinformation policies to misinformation from US politicians that could mislead voters or undermine the November election (possibly in exceptional circumstances, if someone announces the wrong election date). And if the past few days are any sign of it, it could mean they continue to act as conduits and amplifiers for a deluge of misinformation.
Below is a fact check of the last four videos and a look at the actions the two companies have taken regarding them.
A deceptively truncated Biden quote
Why it was dishonest: The campaign took Biden’s comments from a Monday speech completely out of context. Contrary to the video’s suggestion, Biden did not mistake himself for Trump.
“These are not pictures of Joe Biden America in the future. These are pictures of Donald Trump’s America today,” Biden continued.
The result: Twitter tagged the tweet with a “manipulated media” tag.
A wrongly labeled crime video
The result: None. The tweet remained unlabeled active from Monday afternoon.
A wrong Biden interview
Why it was dishonest: That incident never happened.
The result: Twitter tagged the tweet with a “manipulated media” tag. The company eventually removed it due to a copyright claim. The video had been viewed 2.4 million times by Monday night when it was removed.
A wrong addition to a Biden exchange
In the Scalise version of the exchange, Barkan asked Biden, “Do we agree that we can divert some of the funds to the police?” and Biden replied, “Yes, absolutely.”
Why it was dishonest: Barkan said not “for the police” in the actual question that led to the answer “yes, absolutely”. The Scalise video took these words from an earlier Barkan question and appended them to it.
The result: Scalise deleted the video after Twitter identified it as “compromised media,” saying it did so based on a request from Barkan.
Facebook did nothing about the video and refused to comment. Scalise deleted the video from Facebook.