It speaks to the gutter nature of so much of American politics today, especially on social media, that someone created and disseminated videos of comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that are doctored to make it appear as if she is drunkenly slurring her words. But it is, in some ways, even worse that Facebook is refusing to take down the videos, despite the fact that there’s no question they’re manipulated to convey a deliberately deceptive image.
The company stated to The videos-show-facebook-leaders-were-willing-enablers-russian-election-interference/?utm_term=.9e912a2cc257">Washington Post: “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.” Users have a green light from Facebook to lie with reckless disregard.
That certainly explains how Russia was able to manipulate Facebook’s platform and meddle in America’s 2016 presidential election. As Pelosi said last week, this episode indicates that perhaps Facebook’s leaders weren’t so much the victims of Russian interference as “willing enablers” of it. As Congress continues debating regulation of that behemoth company, this should be part of the discussion.
The videos began showing up on Facebook and other social media in recent weeks. Some are edited subtly enough that it’s difficult to tell they’re altered. In millions of viewings on Facebook and elsewhere, commenters accuse Pelosi of being drunk or worse.
Among those who were either taken in by the deception or embraced it was Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who tweeted out the video with the message, “Her speech pattern is bizarre.” He later deleted it but refused to apologize, claiming he had “no reason to believe” it was faked.
To the extent that’s true, Facebook has a duty to block it from the site (as YouTube ultimately did). But Facebook has refused, opting instead to merely “downrank” it to limit its spread. It has added links that viewers can follow to research the controversy, but only those who go to that trouble are being explicitly told that the video is fake.
“They are putting up something that they know is false,” Pelosi stated in one interview. Facebook’s action would be akin to this newspaper publishing a letter to the editor we knew was a deliberate lie and trying to address the outcry by telling readers to visit our website if they want to know the truth. That’s not how reputable media outlets operate.
Having just been reminded by former special counsel Robert Mueller of the severity of Russian election interference, this would have been the perfect time for Facebook to respond to the Pelosi videos by preventing the spread of false information.
Instead, it has added yet another piece of evidence to the growing pile of reasons Congress needs to keep the pressure on Facebook to reform its practices or face regulation.