Facebook is refusing to take down a video altered to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear to be drunk, highlighting a gaping hole in the social media giant’s plan to combat fake news.
The clip, first reported on by The Washington Post, depicts the California Democrat discussing President Donald Trump at a Center for American Progress event on Wednesday. An unidentified hoaxer lowered the speed of the video and raised the pitch to make her speech sound slurred but still normal ― thereby creating the false appearance that she was impaired in some way.
The fake video spread like wildfire on social media. Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted a link to the video on Facebook, where the clip now has almost a million views. (Giuliani later deleted that tweet and gave a rambling, semi-coherent excuse that included the word “ivesssapology.”)
Facebook has long acknowledged its own failures to fight fake news in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and the following year it unveiled a system meant to stop the flow of misleading and false material.
“False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust,” Facebook wrote in April 2017. “It’s not a new phenomenon, and all of us — tech companies, media companies, newsrooms, teachers — have a responsibility to do our part in addressing it.”
But a company spokesperson said Friday that blatantly fake news content, like the Pelosi video, doesn’t technically break any rules because there’s no policy against posting fake content on the platform. Facebook will allow the video to stay up.
That said, Facebook did “enqueue” the video for review by a third-party fact-checking company, which apparently deemed it misleading. So now, instead of being deleted outright, the fake version of Pelosi’s speech will be made harder to find on the platform, the spokesperson said.
Facebook’s announcement renewed discussions about the smear campaigns and fake news that plagued the last presidential election. The Pelosi video specifically recalls the videos of Hillary Clinton that went viral during her campaign, depicting her as physically or mentally unwell.
“The whole edited/doctored Nancy Pelosi video thing isn’t exactly new,” Wired writer Issie Lapowsky tweeted. “It’s ripped from the ‘Hillary Clinton is sick’ handbook of 2016.”
The Pelosi clip continues to go viral on Facebook. A spokesperson told the Guardian that the company’s line between freedom of expression and harmful material is an ongoing discussion:
“There’s a tension here: we work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community, and we believe that reducing the distribution of inauthentic content strikes that balance. But just because something is allowed to be on Facebook doesn’t mean it should get distribution. In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed.”