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Facebook and Twitter deny Pelosi’s request to remove a video posted by Trump

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 days ago By Michael Levenson / The New York Times
Nancy Pelosi wearing a white shirt © Provided by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Facebook and Twitter have rejected a request by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remove a video posted by President Donald Trump that was edited to make it appear as though she were ripping a copy of his State of the Union address as he honored a Tuskegee airman and other guests.

The decision highlighted the tension between critics who want social media platforms to crack down on the spread of misinformation and others who argue that political speech should be given wide latitude, even if it’s deceptive or false.

The debate has accelerated during the 2020 presidential campaign, as Democrats in Congress have demanded that Facebook and other tech companies take tougher action, while figures on the right have fought back, arguing that such policing could muzzle conservative viewpoints.

Into that highly politicized environment came the video posted by Mr. Trump to his Twitter account on Thursday.

The roughly 5-minute clip shows Ms. Pelosi repeatedly ripping his speech in between snippets of him paying tribute to the airman, Charles McGee, as well as other guests he had invited to the State of the Union, including military families. In fact, Ms. Pelosi ripped a copy of Mr. Trump’s speech immediately after his address to Congress on Tuesday.

Drew Hammill, Ms. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, on Friday demanded that the video be removed.

“The American people know that the President has no qualms about lying to them — but it is a shame to see Twitter and Facebook, sources of news for millions, do the same,” Mr. Hammill wrote on Twitter.

“The latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people, and every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests,” he wrote.

But both companies rejected the request.

Replay Video

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, responded to Mr. Hammill on Twitter, writing, “Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn’t make those remarks and the Speaker didn’t rip the speech?”

Mr. Hammill shot back at Mr. Stone, writing: “What planet are you living on? this is deceptively altered. take it down.”

On Saturday, Mr. Stone said that the video did not violate Facebook’s policy on manipulated media.

The policy states, in part, that Facebook will remove videos that have been edited or synthesized “in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

In the case of the video posted by Mr. Trump, “the reason I was making the point about the fact that the things featured in this video actually happened is because that’s a key element of our policy on content like this,” Mr. Stone wrote on Twitter.

A Twitter spokeswoman said on Saturday that, beginning on March 5, the company would start applying labels that read “manipulated media” on heavily edited videos like Mr. Trump’s.

Twitter said it may also show a warning to users before they retweet or like a tweet with a manipulated video and may reduce the visibility of such tweets.

Mr. Trump’s campaign said that the video, titled “Powerful American Stories Ripped to Shreds by Nancy Pelosi,” was clearly a parody.

“If Nancy Pelosi fears images of her ripping up the speech, perhaps she shouldn’t have ripped up the speech,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said on Saturday.

The campaign referred questions about the origin of the video to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

The video isn’t legally actionable and shouldn’t be taken down, said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor and a founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. But, he said, Facebook and Twitter should probably label the video.

“It’s important for social media sites that have massive reach to make and enforce policies concerning manipulated content, rather than abdicating all responsibility,” Professor Zittrain said.

Labeling is helpful, he added, because “even something that to most people clearly appears to be satire can be taken seriously by others.”

Of course, deceptive political ads aren’t a tool exclusive to the internet age, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

In 1968, Richard M. Nixon’s presidential campaign created an ad showing his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, addressing the Democratic National Convention interspersed with scenes of fighting in Vietnam, demonstrators being beaten in the streets of Chicago and poverty in Appalachia, she said.

In another ad, from 1960, John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign edited clips of Mr. Nixon to show him sweating, appearing distracted and nodding and seeming to agree with Mr. Kennedy while Mr. Kennedy was speaking, Professor Jamieson said.

She warned against tech companies policing such content.

“Historically, we don’t want anybody getting in the way of candidates speaking to the electorate,” she said. “We want the press and the opposing candidates to hold them accountable for deception.”

Facebook’s decision not to remove the video came after it honored a request by Ms. Pelosi’s office and took down a video on Thursday that was doctored to make it appear as though she were swallowing Tide pods.

The video, which was still posted on Twitter on Saturday, was apparently made by manipulating a 2018 video of Ms. Pelosi sampling chocolates on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

Facebook said that video violated a policy against showing people eating Tide pods, which it created in 2018, after videos spread on social media encouraging people to bite down on the brightly colored laundry detergent packets.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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