CNN's Anderson Cooper, politicians and assorted gatekeepers think they should be able to tell Facebook what it allows on its platform; they're wrong, of course.
Not a day goes by that an obtuse politician, academic or talking head is not screeching for Facebook, Twitter or some other social media platform to remove content that someone, somewhere finds objectionable.
The latest object of establishment ire? The fake “drunk” Nancy Pelosi video.
In the midst of a rather entertaining war of insults between President Trump and House Speaker Pelosi last week, someone took a snippet of Pelosi speaking, slowed it to make it look like she’d downed some Ambien while chugging chardonnay and posted it on social media.
In a CNN Exclusive, Monika Bickert, Facebook VP for Product Policy and Counterterrorism, explains why the social media site hasn't removed a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. https://t.co/tr9QRDcAZE pic.twitter.com/fOeMQaepSu
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 25, 2019
The video went viral on Facebook and Twitter, with people such as Trump’s personal attorney and professional gas bag, Rudy Giuliani, retweeting it and wondering what was wrong with the California pol. But the video was quickly debunked by several outlets and Facebook even put a warning on it, so that, before share it, you’ll know it’s junk.
(Note: Trump shared a separate video on Twitter from Fox News made up of clips of Pelosi stammering, but those clips were authentic, albeit somewhat misleading. Some of the reporting by the New York Times and others conflates the two videos at issue.)
Still, the finger-waggers of the Fourth Estate turned eight shades of purple in outrage over the fact that neither Facebook nor Twitter have removed the altered video and cast it into the outer darkness.
On Friday, May 24, CNN host Anderson Cooper interviewed Facebook executive Monika Bickert on his show Anderson Cooper 360. Bickert explained that generally Facebook will remove misinformation from fake accounts, or false content that is tied “to an ongoing riot or the threat of some physical violence somewhere in the world.”
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) September 28, 2017
Otherwise, Facebook warns people about the misinformation after confirming its falsity, as it had done in this instance. (The site also takes steps to limit the misinformation’s reach.)
“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe,” Bickert said.
Cooper was plainly incensed.
“Misinformation that doesn’t promote violence, but misinformation that, you know, portrays the third most powerful, you know, politician in the country as a drunk or somehow impaired, that’s fine?” he asked.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 24, 2019
Bickert pointed out that now, with the video having been revealed as a fraud, “the conversation on Facebook, on twitter, offline as well, is about this video having been manipulated…not about people believing this video.”
Nevertheless, Cooper accused her of “allowing the spread of a clearly false doctored video,” and that this was a mortal sin because, “you are in the news business.”
She countered that Facebook was in “the social media business,” and that people come to Facebook to share all kinds of things.
Can any of you imagine if this was Jason Aldean standing over Obama with an Album cover what the outrage would be in the Mainstream Media? pic.twitter.com/0DUV1yfMvG
— Matt Couch ? (@RealMattCouch) November 2, 2017
“So if somebody makes a video of President Trump and slows it down and makes it seem like he’s drunk, which he’s never had a drink in his life, that’s OK with you?” asked Cooper, indignantly. “If that video is on and it makes people believe that the commander in chief is impaired with alcohol, that’s OK on Facebook?”
Now that you mention it, Anderson, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel actually has a recurring segment called “Drunk Donald Trump,” in which footage of Trump is slowed down to make him look inebriated.
Granted, the videos are clearly labeled “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on the show’s official YouTube account, but some have been republished by other accounts and are not so clearly labeled.
WELCOME BACK JOE! pic.twitter.com/b2NbBSX3sx
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2019
Indeed, Trump is easily the most pilloried person on the planet and is subject to all manner of mockery and image manipulation, from a Snoop Dogg album cover depicting Trump’s corpse with a toe tag on it to Trump being assassinated as Caesar in a staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy to those nude statues of him posted in various U.S. cities during the 2016 campaign. Can you imagine if similar statues of Hillary Clinton were erected?
(Of course, Trump often gives as well as he gets, such as in the GIF of Joe Biden that POTUS tweeted in early April.)
The Pelosi video cited by many MSM outlets is on a relatively obscure Facebook page, “Politics Watchdog.” The video is not clearly labeled as satire, nor does it state emphatically that Pelosi is drunk, though many wags suggest as much.
There’s no question that the video would be protected expression under the First Amendment, nor could Pelosi bring a successful libel suit against the maker. Moreover, Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act shields interactive websites from liability for content created and posted by third parties. So Facebook’s off the hook.
— Birdman (@birdmanphotos) August 18, 2016
Still, according to Cooper and a number of other media elites and some politicians, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. should be responsible for removing everything on their sites that is not true. That is not only ridiculous, but social media would cease to exist under such strictures, or become so regulated as to be obsolete.
The condescension of some commentators is palpable, such as the New York Times‘ technology commentator, Kara Swisher, who seems open to the idea of trashing Section 230. For Swisher, the Pelosi video is evidence that Facebook, which she derides as “Fakebook,”is “finished.” She is obviously more comfortable with the top-down editorial paradigm of legacy media.
“The Chewbacca mom video is sure fun, and so are New York Times articles, because classy journalism looks good on the platform,” Swisher wrote recently of the Pelosi hoo-ha. “But the toxic stew of propaganda and fake news that is allowed to pour into the public river without filters?”
— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) March 5, 2016
Either you work for one of the few traditional media companies left standing — you know, the “classy” places — or you’re part of the “toxic stew of propaganda and fake news.”
Sounds like someone wants to turn the clock back to 1980. Which ain’t gonna happen, unless the U.S. government sets up a Ministry of Truth with Swisher as its top social media censor. Thankfully, we have a First Amendment that precludes that development.
Writing for Forbes, internet entrepreneur Kalev Leetaru had the best take on the controversy. He says that Facebook, in this instance, did the right thing; i.e., allowing the video to remain, while limiting the video’s reach and alerting users that its content is flawed.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 24, 2019
“This approach sets the best precedent in that it creates a process for handling both professional political satire and citizen-produced falsified videos,” Leetaru writes.
Humor sites like The Onion or The Babylon Bee are well-known for writing headlines that force the reader to do a double-take. They do not announce themselves as parody. Nor do countless other spoofs, lampoons, satires, feature films, etc.
Would the Swisher-Cooper camp want a 21st Century version of the War of the Worlds to be censored? What about The Blair Witch Project, or photos and footage that purport to show actual images of UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, chupacabras or dark digital myths, such as Slender Man?
Is it possible that the internet and social media can be tamed, trained and made to obey the dictates of polite society?
Sure, but only under the bootheel an authoritarian regime.
For more on this topic, please read:
It’s a Wonderful Parody: SNL’s Trump Skits Are Approved by the First Amendment
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- Trans-Rights Icon Monica Jones’ New Documentary Previews at Tucson Fest - November 22, 2022
- Samantha Cole’s ‘How Sex Changed the Internet’ Slams Online Censorship - November 18, 2022