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Democrats called on social media companies to take down an edited video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that appears to have been made by a group of young conservatives and then circulated by President Trump. The controversy is likely just the start of a year-long standoff between tech companies and lawmakers about the publishing and sharing of altered videos and photos.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who helms the House antitrust investigation of Big Tech, and a longtime Pelosi staffer were among the prominent voices who called for Twitter and Facebook to take action against the Pelosi clip.
The video was edited to make it look like the House speaker was ripping up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union speech right after he paid tribute to various special guests --- including a Tuskegee airman and a military family being reunited. (Pelosi did tear up the speech, but at the conclusion of the president’s remarks, not in response to any individual guest.)
.@Twitter must take this misleading video about @SpeakerPelosi down now.— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) February 7, 2020
Social media platforms are a place where people come for news & information.
They need to have certain standards.
Falsity has never been part of our 1st Amendment tradition. https://t.co/dwiDeKNd3D
From Drew Hammill, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff:
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.— Drew Hammill (@Drew_Hammill) February 7, 2020
The tech companies have been bracing for this clash: They recently have been outlining more specific policies about how they plan to limit the spread of certain manipulated videos and photos as election season gets underway, but this particular video of Pelosi appears to fall into a gray area in the ongoing debate about what responsibility they have to limit the spread of falsehoods on their platforms. Experts are split on how they should approach an unsophisticated fake that shows actual events, just out of the order they happened.
Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, a free-speech advocacy group, said:
Demanding takedown of this #Pelosi video would open door to ban a great deal of parody from @facebook @twitter etc. Viewers can tell she didn't rip up speech multiple times in exact same way. Harsh, nasty, underhanded, yes. But parody often is. https://t.co/8rBAZ408oc— Suzanne Nossel (@SuzanneNossel) February 7, 2020
Dave Karpf, a media and public affairs professor at George Washington University, told my colleagues Drew Harwell and Tony Romm that the video was clearly meant to be misleading. “We all know the difference between editing something to make it more clear and editing something to make it more deceptive,” he told them. He said while it may not violate the companies' policies, it should should still draw public outrage as “gross and disturbing and a sign of what is probably more to come.”
The companies have differing approaches to handling edited or doctored media. Facebook told Drew and Tony the Pelosi video did not violate its policies, and spokesman Andy Stone defended the company's decision not to take action:
Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn't make those remarks and the Speaker didn't rip the speech?— Andy Stone (@andymstone) February 7, 2020
Twitter told Drew and Tony that its new rules on manipulated media had not yet gone into effect, so it could not comment on the video. A company spokeswoman told the New York Times that Twitter would start applying labels reading “manipulated media” to heavily edited videos like Trump’s once the new rules take effect on March 5.
One thing’s for sure: Social media firms should brace for more controversies like this one as election season progresses, especially if Trump continues to rely heavily on edited videos and photos as ammunition against his political opponents.
The Trump campaign told the Times over the weekend the video was clearly a parody.
“If Nancy Pelosi fears images of her ripping up the speech, perhaps she shouldn’t have ripped up the speech,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, told the Times.
Republicans seized on the controversy to help the video gain traction. From Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who has called for Pelosi to be censured for tearing up the speech:
In response to her classless outburst, I've decided to introduce a resolution to censure & condemn Speaker Pelosi.— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) February 5, 2020
In a new low, she violated the Code of Official Conduct requiring Members "behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." pic.twitter.com/gvf6KWNpSM
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) plans to introduced a proposal today to overhaul the Federal Trade Commission, the agency tasked with policing privacy and antitrust issues. Hawley's longshot pitch is the latest sign that lawmakers in Washington are growing concerned the more than 100-year-old agency isn't equipped to regulate modern tech.
Hawley wants to essentially dismantle the FTC and house it within the Justice Department. But he has yet to introduce specific legislation, and it’s unclear whether other lawmakers would support such an aggressive overhaul. But the freshman GOP senator is sending a message to tech companies that he wants to lead a crackdown on their practices.
Hawley contends the new structure would ensure the agency is more accountable to Congress and spends less time engaging in unnecessary disputes over jurisdiction. These skirmishes have escalated over the past year as the agencies have opened probes into several tech companies, as the Wall Street Journal previously reported.
“The FTC isn't working. It wastes time in turf wars with the DOJ, nobody is accountable for decisions, and it lacks the 'teeth’ to get after Big Tech's rampant abuses,” Hawley said in a statement. “Congress needs to do something about it.”
Hawley’s proposal would scrap the FTC’s five-person commission in favor of a sole director who would be accountable to the associate attorney general. The FTC would no longer have the authority to review mergers; instead the proposal would grant the agency the authority to create penalties for first-time civil offenses as well as to create and enforce “rules for interoperability, data portability, and data minimization.”
Hawley’s plan stands in sharp contrast to efforts among Democrats, who have proposed creating a new agency regulating privacy issues. His initiative comes as House members are conducting their own bipartisan review of antitrust issues. They plan to issue a report in the coming months.
NIBBLES: The organizer of Mobile World Congress issued new restrictions on Chinese attendees yesterday because of growing concerns over the coronavirus, Brian Heater at TechCrunch reports. The new restrictions add to growing concerns the outbreak could force organizers to cancel the annual event, one of the world's biggest gatherings for the telecommunications industry.
GSM Association, an international forum for the wireless industry that organizes MWC, said it will ban all travelers from Hubei, the Chinese province that is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. All visitors from China must show they've been outside the country for 14 days before the event, and all attendees will have to pass a temperature screening.
Visitors from China comprise only about 5 percent of attendees for the annual event. Potentially more worrisome is the growing list of high-profile companies no longer attending. Amazon, LG, Ericsson, ZTE and Nvidia, a sponsor of the event, have all pulled out or will send fewer employees. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Mobile World Conference is frequently attended by U.S. officials including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who is listed as a speaker for this year’s conference on the MWC website.
BYTES: Q-Anon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory originating on online platforms such as 4chan and YouTube, has bled into the offline political world, Mike McIntire and Kevin Roose at the New York Times report. The far-right movement, which accuses deep state actors of plotting to overthrow Trump and prominent Democrats of killing children, is gaining new prominence in the 2020 elections.
“The seepage of conspiracy theorizing from the digital fever swamps into life offline is one of the more unsettling developments of the Trump era, in which the president has relentlessly pushed groundless conspiracies to reshape political narratives to his liking,” Mike and Kevin write.
President Trump has not explicitly endorsed the conspiracy, but he has recirculated posts from QAnon supporters on Twitter and invited some of its followers to his “Social Media Summit” last summer.
Other Republicans have more explicitly endorsed the conspiracy. At least six Republican congressional candidates, as well as several state and local politicians, have signaled some level of interest in QAnon since 2018, Mike and Kevin report.
And followers of the conspiracy probably will be a potent source of misinformation heading into the 2020 presidential race. Most recently QAnon fans pushed groundless theories online linking the liberal billionaire George Soros to the issues with the app in the Iowa caucuses.
— News from the public sector:
— News from the private sector:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Coming up:
- The House Energy and Commerce committee will host a hearing “Autonomous Vehicles: Promises and Challenges of Evolving Automotive Technologies" Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- The Department of Justice will hold a public workshop in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19, 2020, titled “Section 230 – Nurturing Innovation or Fostering Unaccountability"
- Mobile World Congress takes place Feb. 24 to 27 in Barcelona.
Election security finally got the Hollywood treatment this weekend. Iowa caucuses got their first Oscar nod for Democrats' disastrous app rollout:
Steve Martin: “A couple of years ago, there was a big disaster here at the #Oscars where they accidentally read out the wrong name...they have guaranteed that this will not happen this year because the Academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app.” https://t.co/NumPNVQVlJ pic.twitter.com/Ep86JEGlmN— ABC News (@ABC) February 10, 2020
Saturday Night Live also had fun with the debacle: