In letting fake Pelosi video stand, Facebook shows its true colors
"With great power, there must also come great responsibility."
--Stan Lee, Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962
The truth is dead, and Facebook killed it.
That's not nearly as much of an exaggeration as you might wish. Consider that the social media colossus was the platform of choice for a video that blazed across the internet last week, purporting to depict a drunken Nancy Pelosi giving a speech. The clip was pretty basic, as dirty tricks go. Pelosi's voice was made to sound slurred simply by slowing the video and changing the pitch -- none of the so-called "deepfake" next-generation technology that experts say will soon render digital counterfeits indistinguishable from real videos.
But, given that that technology is now breathing down our necks, Facebook's mishandling of this relatively low-tech hoax did not inspire confidence. You see, where YouTube quickly took the clip down, Facebook refused. Yes, Twitter did, too, but it's Facebook, as the largest social media company on the planet, whose behavior is uniquely ominous.
Rather than remove the video, it appended a note inviting would-be viewers to visit fact-checking sites where it has been debunked. This was apparently Facebook's way of having its proverbial cake and eating it, too. In so doing, it ducks the great responsibility that comes with its great power.
Sadly, this isn't the first time we've seen evidence of the company's spinal deficiencies. As reported in 2018 by the Columbia Journalism Review, among others, its willingness to serve as a conduit of misinformation has been linked to tribalistic violence and even death in places like Sri Lanka, Libya, Myanmar and India.
Of course, the public could end the misinformation crisis in a heartbeat. Just stop looking for news on Facebook. Connect with friends, argue politics, talk sports, yes, yes and yes. But get your news from actual, reputable news organizations and, if you must share a story or video of some news event, make sure it originates with, or has been vetted by, one of them.
Boom. Problem solved.
Except that human nature doesn't work that way, does it? So often, people who think they want truth just want validation, something the real news doesn't always supply. But a fake video always will.