Doctored video of Nancy Pelosi shows social media giants ill-prepared for 2020

Sam Dean and Suhauna Hussain, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed a conference Wednesday, a distorted video of the California Democrat's conversation began spreading across the internet.

The manipulated clip, slowed to make Pelosi sound as if she were slurring her words, racked up millions of views on Facebook the following day. It was posted to YouTube, and on Thursday night was given a boost on Twitter when Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and former mayor of New York, shared a link with his 318,000 followers.

By Friday, the three social media giants were forced to respond to this viral instance of political fakery. How they dealt with the issue, three years after being blindsided by a wave of fake news and disinformation in the 2016 election cycle, may serve as a harbinger of what's to come in 2020.

And for those who had hoped that new technology, stricter standards and the full attention of these powerful Silicon Valley companies might stem the tide of lies, the case of the Pelosi video does not bode well.

Facebook, where the clip found its largest audience, refused to take it down. A spokesperson for the company said that the video does not violate Facebook's Community Standards, adding in a statement that "we don't have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true."

Instead, Facebook ran the video through its official fake news process, codified since the company admitted it had a problem in late 2016. It submitted the clip to a third-party fact-checking company, which rated it "false." Following that judgement, the company drastically decreased how often the video is automatically displayed in users' newsfeeds and appended an info-box below it linking to articles that say that the clip is a fake.


"We work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community," the spokesperson said. "We believe that reducing the distribution of inauthentic content strikes that balance. But just because something is allowed to be on Facebook doesn't mean it should get distribution. In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we're not going to show it at the top of News Feed."

YouTube deleted all copies of the video on its site after being notified of its existence following a Washington Post report on the video. The company said in a statement that the clip violated its policies, and added that it did not "surface prominently" on the site or in search results.

The Google-owned video platform said last year that it was tweaking its algorithms to promote more authoritative news sources. Similar to Facebook's info-boxes, the company also introduced panels that appear below videos dealing with common conspiracy theories or produced by state-run media outlets to give viewers more context, though a Buzzfeed investigation in January found that they were inconsistently used.

Twitter declined to comment on the Pelosi clip in particular and has not taken formal action.


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