The country’s social media giants are taking heat for videos circulating on their platforms that have been altered to show Speaker Nancy Pelosi slurring her words — the latest incident in a roiling debate over what content companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should allow on their platforms.
The Washington Post first reported on the appearance of the videos, finding that footage of an appearance by Pelosi at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday had been slowed 25 percent, in a manner that made Pelosi’s speech seem impaired. One version posted on a Facebook page called Politics WatchDog had been viewed nearly 2 million times as of Thursday evening and sparked comments like, “Omg is she drunk or having a stroke???” and, “She’s drunk!!!!!!”
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Pelosi’s daughter Christine Pelosi was among those objecting to the videos, stating, “Madam Speaker doesn’t even drink alcohol!”
The videos come amid an escalating feud this week between Pelosi and President Donald Trump following a contentious White House meeting over infrastructure policy. Trump abandoned the meeting abruptly, and Pelosi later told reporters that she wished Trump’s “family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.” Trump later shot back that Pelosi had “lost it.”
On Thursday night, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Trump’s personal attorney, amplified the doctored video by tweeting a version of it along with the lines, “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.” Giuliani later deleted the tweet.
Trump himself worked to extend the storyline of Pelosi stumbling with her speech by tweeting a separate, tightly edited video showing Pelosi stumbling over some words during a press conference on Capitol Hill. The president of the United States tagged the video with the headline, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”
Social media companies have wrestled with what sort of posts to allow on their platforms, finding themselves making calls on everything from Russian propaganda to terrorist massacre videos to arguably offensive speech. There are growing concerns over the role so-called deep fake videos — sophisticated forgeries crafted with the assistance of artificial intelligence — might play in the 2020 election.
The slowed-down Pelosi footage was a decidedly lower-tech operation than a deep fake, but it’s not the first time such a simple manipulation has circulated widely and set off a political firestorm. The White House drew controversy last fall after press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a video of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta that had been sped up, giving the false impression that he had swatted at a White House intern.
Social media platforms have rules prohibiting graphic violence and threats of physical harm, but manipulated videos may be trickier to police. They don’t on their surface represent any flagrant rule violations. The Pelosi videos remained widely viewable on multiple platforms throughout the Thursday.
A YouTube spokesman said: “YouTube has clear policies that outline what content is not acceptable to post and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us. These videos violated our policies and have been removed. They also did not surface prominently. In fact, search results and watch next panels about Nancy Pelosi include videos from authoritative sources, usually at the top.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Twitter spokesperson said the company had no comment.