May 23, 2019

Altered Pelosi video spreading on social media

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty

An altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that shows her speaking slowly as if drunk is spreading on social media.

Why it matters: The clip, which appears to have been slowed to make Pelosi's speech sound slurred, has found traction on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, highlighting how easily even the simplest manipulated media can mushroom on social platforms.

“There is no question that the video has been slowed to alter Pelosi’s voice,” Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at UC Berkeley, told the Post's Drew Harwell.

  • Clips from the same speech shared by news organizations show her speaking at an average speed.
  • The video has already been watched tens of thousands of times.

The big picture: Experts are wringing their hands over the potential for deepfakes — AI-manipulated videos, audio and photos — to stir up political mayhem. But so far, the vast majority of media altered to mislead has been extremely simple.

  • The easiest way to confuse is just to take a photo or video out of context, mislabeling or mischaracterizing it. A common example: archived clips of missile strikes in Iraq repurposed to look like a new American or Russian attack in Syria.
  • Bad Photoshops fall into this category, too. It doesn't take much to put a political leader in a seemingly compromising situation with an altered photo.

Here, a simple slowdown — while preserving the speaker's pitch — is paired with an explicit claim that Pelosi is intoxicated. One example video description from YouTube, paired with a copy of the video uploaded by a user with a Trump campaign sign avatar:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi drunk giving an interview babbling about President Trump being involved in a "cover up" They didn't embarrass themselves enough on the "Russian Collusion" thing. Share this disgrace...

President Trump tweeted a different video of Pelosi on Thursday evening, this one edited to highlight moments in a recent speech where she stumbled or stuttered. It did not appear to have been otherwise manipulated.

What they're saying: Social media platforms must balance the potential dangers of misinformation with free speech concerns when deciding what to do with videos like this one.

  • YouTube took down the video after Axios asked Google, its parent company, for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson said the videos, which violated YouTube policy, "did not surface prominently," and that searches for Nancy Pelosi returned videos from "authoritative sources."
  • Facebook said the video was sent to a fact checker, but that by 4 pm Pacific, none had rated the video. If they were to rate the video as misleading, Facebook says it would reduce its distribution in users' newsfeeds — but not take the clip down.
  • Twitter declined to comment on the record. The clip remains viewable on Twitter.

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