The video above was released by the Trump campaign, and tweeted out by the President. It made effective, if predictable, use of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inexcusable stunt of symbolically ripping up the President’s State of the Union text at the conclusion of his address.
Immediately upon the ad’s release, the Speaker’s office demanded that Twitter and Facebook take it down. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted, “The latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people, and every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests.” But a Facebook spokesman replied on Twitter, “Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn’t make those remarks and the Speaker didn’t rip the speech?”
Hammill indignantly responded, “What planet are you living on? This is deceptively altered. Take it down.” Facebook would not. “I can confirm for you that the video doesn’t violate our policies,” said representative Andy Stone, pointing out that what Facebook called “unacceptable altered video” were those edited to make it appear that a person said something they didn’t say, or did something they didn’t do.
Ugh. The video was edited to make it appear ( though not fooling anyone with an IQ above freezing) that Pelosi ripped up the speech while the President’s various human interest salutes were unfolding. That’s something she didn’t do.
“I think they have a history here of promoting and making money off of content that is intentionally false,” Hammill said, in condemning the decision.
Ugh again. Satire is “false.”Hyperbole is “false.” Metaphors are “false.” Opinions can be “false.” Advertising is often “false,” if one’s idea of “true” is excessively literal. The only way the ad could legitimately be called “false” is if symbolism and metaphor are alien to the culture, and except for those Americans who are cognitively challenged, they obviously are not.
Twitter also refused to take down the video. That platform has a new set of policies regarding manipulated media that it announced last week.The new rule: “You may not deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm. In addition, we may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand the media’s authenticity and to provide additional context.”
Twitter explained that it would henceforth examine videos to determine “whether the content has been substantially edited in a manner that fundamentally alters its composition, sequence, timing or framing” as well as looking at “any visual or auditory information (such as new video frames, overdubbed audio or modified subtitles) that has been added or removed.”
That policy goes into effect on March 5, however, so Twitter told Pelosi’s office that under current rules, the video violated no standards. The company would not speculate on its decision after the new rules went into effect.
The episode nicely illustrates how it is dangerous to give social media platforms ethical leave to censor political content. The responsibility for assessing whether political content is “false” or not must rest with the individual who sees or hears it, because the staffs of these social media companies have proven repeatedly that they cannot be entrusted with policing speech.
Twitter’s policy, based on “harm,” is just as subjective and ripe for abuse as Facebook’s. What is “harm?” Any time a person is misled or misinformed, that’s harm, even if the reason the individual was misinformed is because he or she is a gullible, ignorant fool. A dummy so misled may spread the misconception to a friend, and she tells two friends, and they tell two friends…as the old TV commercial goes. The Twitter policy, however, aggressively enforced, reduces acceptable speech to the blandest standard imaginable, and sacrifices wit, irony, and nuance for literalism as the sole variety of “truth.”
The attempt by Pelosi to stifle legitimate criticism is also ominous, and, once again, a marker of her party’s increasing hostility to free speech.The Speaker asked for the video’s negative interpretation of her disrespectful stunt when she did it. Isn’t tearing up the entire text of a speech the same as symbolically rejecting everything in it? Certainly that is a justifiable case to make, and the Trump campaign’s video makes it. If Pelosi wasn’t prepared to weather that obvious line of attack, she shouldn’t have torn up the speech. Pelosi wants to be able to perform her own bit of political theater and then to prevent her adversary from returning fire.
There were also, naturally, “factchecks” revealing the shocking secret that Pelosi didn’t really keep tearing the same document over and over with the identical expression on her face. The ignorant, naive, badly educated, gullible and dimwitted are indeed sadly handicapped in a free society. Both parties try to exploit them, but the familiar nostrum still applies, much as politicians like Pelosi, and, when the show is on the other foot, President Trump, would prefer. The remedy for controversial is more expression (and smarter citizens), not less.
Twitter link (to post on Facebook): https://twitter.com/CaptCompliance/status/1226863632945942530