The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After a fake interview of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral, its maker said it was satire

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, attends a rally in New York this month. (Peter Foley/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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The video traveled quickly after being shared Monday on Facebook, gathering more than 1.5 million views in less than a day.

In it, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the congressional candidate from New York whose democratic socialist campaign has stuck a lightning bolt into the world of Democratic politics, appeared to give bizarre answers in a 2½-minute video that was staged as an interview with conservative commentator Allie Stuckey on the site CRTV. Ocasio-Cortez shook her head “no,” when Stuckey asked if she had any knowledge about how the political system worked and seemed to imply that Venezuela was in the Middle East and was a model of socialism.

But the video did not depict a real interview, despite its caption: “Allie *grills* congressional hopeful and progressive it girl ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ on her socialist agenda and knowledge of government … or lack thereof.” Instead, it used heavily edited footage from an interview Ocasio-Cortez did with PBS earlier this month spliced to appear as answers to questions read by Stuckey.

After an outcry, the Facebook page for Stuckey’s show, which the social media giant has given an informal imprimatur in the form of a blue verification check mark, was updated to note that the video was satire and include a reference to the original PBS show. But the fact that the video traveled so widely — and for some, apparently believably — has served as another example of how misleading information continues to thrive in the fast-paced flow of information online despite Facebook’s promise to better weed it out.

Misinformation is not completely outlawed according to the company’s community guidelines — an issue that has caused plenty of discussion recently — and neither, of course, is satire, but the video appeared to fall into a confusing gap between the two before it was labeled. Facebook’s moderators can down-rank false information to slow its spread and are able to add a “satire” categorization in other instances, but the fact that the video traveled so widely before being updated by CRTV shows the speed with which information can move across the service before any action is taken.

And to many skeptical eyes, the video was obviously fishy and staged. But it appeared to be taken seriously after it was shared on some conservative-leaning pages on Facebook, and was viewed about 1 million times before the company posted the clarification to its caption.

“The new face of the Democrats,” wrote one commentator who shared the video. “Oof, the stupidity is strong with this one.”

“Everyone please watch this video, it’s revealing,” another wrote on the page Wake Up America, the Original. “How did this person get elected to Congress.”

“Down right scary as hell!!!!!” said another.

(Ocasio-Cortez is a candidate for Congress, having only won the Democratic primary for the district in the Bronx and Queens.)

New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher tweeted about the video early Tuesday morning, noting that it was a “faked interview,” and that it wasn’t labeled satire. Others joined in to express their frustration, with some seeing it as not just a failure on the part of CRTV, but Facebook.

“Republicans are so scared of me that they’re faking videos and presenting them as real on Facebook because they can’t deal with reality anymore,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

But Stuckey joined a chorus of conservative commentators who responded defiantly to the backlash against the piece, comparing it to satirical videos published by outlets such as the Onion and comedians such as Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.

“If you have to do research to figure out that a video that blatantly absurd is satirical, you shouldn’t be on the Internet,” Stuckey wrote.

Some writers rebutted that idea.

“It would be one thing if Stuckey or CRTV in general were known for doing satirical stunts on a regular basis like this. Facebook is rife with people falling for what are clearly meant to be jokes from regular purveyors of such like The Onion,” the Observer wrote. “But this is something different.”

The Verge’s Adi Robertson noted that “while the clips aren’t spliced all that realistically, it’s not clear that this is intentional. Without the disclaimer, it’s indistinguishable from an awkward attempt at smearing a political opponent.”

When asked whether Stuckey had done other satirical interviews in the same style, a CRTV spokeswoman provided a link to an interview — in this case one that appeared to have been actually filmed face to face — with the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro that Stuckey had done in a mocking tone. But that video does not appear to involve the use of edited footage. On Facebook, it is currently marked in the caption as satire.

Many of Stuckey’s videos appear to be relatively straightforward commentary from a conservative Christian perspective on subjects including gun rights, abortion and the political left. “Schools are being filled with anti-Trump indoctrination,” one is headlined. And “Human Dignity Starts in the Womb.”

Even some apparent critics of Ocasio-Cortez’s political leanings said Stuckey’s video went too far.

“While I’m anti socialism, this BS is not helpful,” one wrote on Facebook. “If she is really that ignorant let her prove it on her own. Respect the truth.”

CRTV defended the post.

“Satire has a long tradition and plays a valuable role in political discourse,” it said in a statement. “We love Allie’s creative work and look forward to liberals feigning outrage at satire in future videos.”

Facebook declined to comment on the record about the video, and a company official who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity said she did not know whether moderators had reviewed it.

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