Facebook Faces More Controversy After Not Deleting Fake Pelosi Video

Facebook is facing even more controversy. This time, it’s for refusing to remove a fake Nancy Pelosi video which makes her appear drunk.

Last week, reports surfaced that a fake video was circulating on Facebook. The video purported to show US speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi appearing incoherent while speaking to an audience. That video, of course, was quickly debunked as being doctored and fake. Analysis concludes that after comparing it to the verified footage, the video was slowed down and the pitch increased to make it sound more natural after.

Millions of people say the video and similar videos were further spread by US president Donald Trump as well as others working in the administration.

Of course, fake videos are nothing new on the Internet. Take, for instance, the famous Megawoosh video from 2009. The video is impressive to watch, but completely faked. What is important to note is the fact that the people behind the video said afterwards is that it is a fake and even, at one point, showed the various techniques of how they made the video. For instance, the downhill part of the slide and the ramp is actually disconnected. They obtained the sound of the slide through other means as well. Even a sprinkle of animation was thrown in. The slide concept even made it onto the TV show Mythbusters at one point where the hosts said that it was the most fun they’ve had on a shoot.

So, really, fake videos have been around the web for at least a decade, likely longer now. Most are in good fun and many creators say that, yes, they did fake the video for full transparency. In this case, the video is intentionally deceiving. It is aimed at being as politically damaging as possible. What’s worse is that it was posted to Facebook which has already faced incredible pressure to fight fake news for years now. So, this in and of itself puts Facebook in a very difficult spot.

What Facebook did in response to all of this, however, certainly raised a few eyebrows. After the video was debunked as being an obvious fake, Facebook responded by refusing to remove it. Instead, what they did was decrease its visibility on the network. The Guardian actually spoke to one of the people who is spreading the video asking about why they won’t take down the video. The response for some was not all that surprising:

The administrator of the Politics WatchDog page polled readers on whether to remove the video, with most voting for it stay online. They defended the decision to keep the video live, insisting “it’s a free country”.

“Independent factcheckers that Facebook uses are pro-liberal and funded by the left,” Politics WatchDog added, insisting that the decision to upload the video was simply to allow the public to come to their own conclusion: “Just for the record, we never claimed that Speaker Pelosi was drunk. We can’t control what the people in the comments think.”

A Facebook spokesperson said: “There’s a tension here: we work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community, and 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.”

That type of response has caused even more anger amongst American political observers and American media outlets. TheRoot highlighted on the responses from CNN:

“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe,” she said during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information,” she added.

Cooper, whose black-framed spectacles accentuated a mild disgust, wasn’t having it.

“You’re making money by being in the news business,” he said. “If you can’t do it well, shouldn’t you just get out of the news business?”

We aren’t in the news business. We’re in the social media business,” Bickert replied.

“The reason you’re sharing news is because you make money from it.,” Cooper replied. “But if you’re in the news business, which you are, then you have to do it right. And this is false information you are spreading.”

Bickert told Cooper the video is now tagged with fact-checker icons beneath the post, though icons often get lost in the shuffle or misinterpreted as related content or advertisements that users easily overlook, which is something you’d think the world’s most powerful media outlet would know.

In an opinion piece posted on USAToday says that this is whole incident is a threat to the truth:

Welcome to the brave new “news” world that the internet has built. Or, more accurately, that we have allowed leaders of internet platforms to build because we have not insisted that they assume the responsibility that goes along with their newfound power.

Facebook’s refusal to pull a maliciously doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from its platform is just the latest example of how the digital technology that proponents thought would turbocharge democracy has instead come to threaten it.

Hey, why eliminate an inaccuracy that might get some people to click?

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook is not the Internet. One could actually list endless examples of how online journalism has, in fact, boosted democracy. Whole news organizations have sprung up thanks to the Internet. Online journalists such as myself have been able to not only help hold governments accountable, but also more mainstream journalists accountable as well. I would know, I’ve helped debunked news articles that simply took RIAA and MPAA press releases at face value for the better part of a decade now.

Is the spread of a handful of obviously faked videos a threat to democracy? That is actually a pretty big stretch. If anything, this is actually a pretty reasonable argument for breaking up Facebook because what’s posted on there can have a pretty big impact in the first place. It’s not to say the video isn’t causing damage, but the damage is being exaggerated here.

Some observers say the video feeds into confirmation bias. It really is looking like that effect is happening. People who don’t like Nancy Pelosi have no problem believing the fake video. People who think the Internet needs heavy regulation see this video as further evidence of that. Keep in mind that some within the traditional media see the Internet as a whole as some monolithic threat of evil that must be stopped. This likely stems from the fact that the Internet has been a threat to TV broadcast news and the newspaper industry. So, that would partly explain why so many are pouncing on this story to begin with.

Regardless, Facebooks refusal to remove the video is definitely a misstep. If this was in the context of a handful of fact checkers debunking the video and this video only getting a few thousand views, the decreasing of its visibility is actually not a bad move. Unfortunately, it got a lot of attention and became very high profile, so the deletion of the video would have actually made more sense. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that any account holders are facing any repercussions of perpetuating the video. So, the perspective that Facebook mishandled the situation is actually quite reasonable.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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