is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic
Imagine thinking so little of Americans’ intelligence to label a factual video clip ‘manipulated’ because it’s being used as a meme in the presidential election campaign. Twitter just did that, following in Facebook’s footsteps.
For the first time ever, Twitter applied a ‘manipulated’ tag to a video retweeted by President Donald Trump and shared by his social media director Dan Scavino. Mainstream media critics of the president were really excited at the news, calling the video “deceptively edited.”
“We cannot get re-elect [sic]….we cannot win this re-election… excuse me, we can only re-elect Donald Trump,” the video shows Democrat front-runner Joe Biden telling a crowd. According to Twitter and the mainstream media, this is deceptive because the clip leaves out the ending: “…if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here.”
The full video of Biden’s remarks makes it clear that he didn’t really endorse Trump. Of course, no actual person out there would think he did, merely that the 78-year-old establishment Democrat is having trouble stringing a coherent sentence together, even with the help of a teleprompter.
Last month, when Twitter announced that it would flag posts containing “synthetic or manipulated” media, the only thing clear about its rules was that their wording was so vague they would effectively be arbitrary.
According to those rules, a tweet may be labeled as “deceptive” if the context in which it is shared “could result in confusion or misunderstanding” or “suggests a deliberate intent to deceive people.” Who gets to decide that? Twitter. Or should that be the Ministry of Truth?
Keep in mind that the US has constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech – which through some rather creative legal reasoning does not actually apply to private companies, so Twitter, or Facebook, or YouTube have in effect been able to throttle, demonetize, shadowban or just plain kick off anyone whose politics they disagree with.
A Project Veritas undercover video from January 2018 shows a Twitter employee explaining the workings behind “shadowbanning.” A July 2019 story in the Washington Examiner documents the political activism of a senior engineer at the company – which continues to this day.
Just last week, there was another social media first, when Facebook removed a series of Trump re-election ads. This happened after complaints by Democrat activists, lawmakers and media that the “official census” wording was “misleading” and confusing. While that may have been true about the titles of the ads, the actual text made it clear they were requesting voters to voluntarily share their information with the campaign – not harvesting it without asking, like, say, Facebook.
Quoting politicians out of context is indeed misleading. It’s also the oldest tactic in the book. The mainstream media have happily done it to Trump over and over – recall the “fine people” remark about Charlottesville, or insinuation he called all Mexicans “rapists,” or all illegal immigrants “animals.” There were no corrections, no apologies, no flagging for misleading or doctored edits for those.
Just last month, when Democrats demanded the removal or flagging of a Trump ad showing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripping up his State of the Union speech – because it showed her doing it repeatedly, as he made various points, instead of just once at the end – the social media giants refused, saying it did not violate any of their policies. Now both companies have suddenly reversed course and are happy to give in to pressure – so long as it comes from one side, anyway.
The entire argument that fake news or “manipulated” social media posts swayed US elections has always been an insult to Americans’ intelligence, coming from people who clearly believe democracy is too important to be left to the voters.
If social media is indeed crucial to American elections – as Democrats themselves have argued, albeit while attempting to blame phantom ‘Russians’ rather than their own disguised operatives seeking to meddle and influence – then this type of arbitrary standard amounts to putting not a thumb, but a fist, on the scales of democracy. It has not gone unnoticed.
“We’re seeing an intentional and coordinated effort by established gatekeepers to equate political speech they don’t like with the entirely separate categories of doctored deep fakes, illegal content, and deceptive cheap fakes,” FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said in response to the Twitter controversy.
The question now is what is to be done about it.