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Pelosi's Office Blasts Viral Videos Edited to Make Her Appear Drunk

Newsweek logo Newsweek 5/24/2019 Donica Phifer
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A recent question and answer session from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has become the latest instance of political distortion.

Pelosi appeared Wednesday for a talk for the Center for American Progress, speaking for over 30 minutes to a gathered audience on various topics, including a recent interaction with President Donald Trump regarding infrastructure needs in the United States. Shortly afterward, conservative social media accounts and video channels began sharing a video of Pelosi which has been edited so that the California Democrat appears to be slurring her words as if she is drunk. 

According to the Washington Post, the video, the origin of which remains unknown, has been slowed down to approximately 75 percent of its initial speed and the pitch of Pelosi's voice altered to appear more like her natural speaking tone. The adjustment to her speaking pitch, the Post said, was likely done to cover up the video being edited to slow the cadence of Pelosi's speech pattern. 

“There is no question that the video has been slowed to alter Pelosi’s voice. It is striking that such a simple manipulation can be so effective and believable to some," Hany Farid, a computer-science professor and digital-forensics expert at University of California, Berkeley told the Post.

The video was shared quickly across conservative blogs and social media, drawing comments from those who watched who quickly questioned if Pelosi was drunk or possibly having a stroke. One such account, WatchDog Politics, shared the video on Wednesday afternoon, garnering over 20,000 comments and 7,000 likes. The video has been viewed over 1.4 million times.

"Just for the record we never claimed that Speaker Pelosi was drunk," a message posted on the group's Facebook page reads, apparently a reference to the Post's story about the video. "We can’t control what the people in the comments think. It’s a free country. For your information, we are not a conservative news outlet. Washington Post is fake news!"

When asked for comment by the Post, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill said, “We’re not going to comment on this sexist trash.”

The video is just the latest instance where footage of Pelosi has been distorted, though the House Speaker is but one politician who has been the subject of such editing or misrepresentation.

Individuals working in the tech industry have warned of so-called "deep fakes" - videos that are created using a computer and appear to represent a living person. Trump was the subject of one such video in 2018 when a Belgian production studio created a video on climate change for the Socialistische Partij Anders. In the video, the president urged Belgians to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, though Trump never made such a comment. Another video included a speech given by Russian president Vladimir Putin used in conjunction with footage of former President Barack Obama, giving the illusion that Putin's words were being spoken by Obama, though he never said them.

Earlier this week, a Samsung lab in Russia revealed that they used artificial intelligence to turn Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa into a speaking person. The lab also used photos of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein to test their technique, which needs only one still image to create a computer-generated video of the subject. Similar technology from other companies requires multiple images, making the process of creating videos more difficult.

However, the technology used in the video of Pelosi is far less advanced Farid told the Post.

"I think that deep fake technology poses a real threat, this type of low-tech fake shows that there is a larger threat of misinformation campaigns — too many of us are willing to believe the worst in people that we disagree with," he said.

a person standing in a room © Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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