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Twitter flags video retweeted by President Trump as ‘manipulated media’

It’s the first time the social network has enforced a new policy to fight doctored videos and photos

President Trump retweeted a video of Joe Biden, edited to sound as though Biden endorsed Trump for reelection at a campaign speech in St. Louis on March 7. (Video: The Washington Post)

Twitter applied its new “manipulated media” label for the first time on Sunday to a deceptively edited video of former vice president Joe Biden. The video was shared by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by President Trump.

The video was the first test of a new policy the social media company implemented March 5 to label tweets that contain manipulated or synthetic media, ranging from edited videos to more sophisticated examples known as “deepfakes” that can fabricate events that never happened.

In this case, the altered video of Biden — who has surged to the front of the Democratic presidential race to face Trump in November — is based on a speech he gave Saturday in Kansas City, Mo. It was then shared on Twitter by Scavino, only edited to make it appear as if Biden inadvertently endorsed Trump for reelection.

The version of the video shared by Scavino showed Biden stumbling on a line during a speech, then saying: “Excuse me. We can only reelect Donald Trump.”

The other man behind Trump’s Twitter account

But the edited video deleted the second part of the former vice president’s sentence. The whole thing said: “Excuse me. We can only reelect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s got to be a positive campaign.”

Twitter applied the label to Scavino’s tweet at about 5 p.m. Sunday, about 18 hours after Scavino shared the video. The video had at least 5 million views and more than 21,000 retweets as of Sunday evening.

Scavino said on Twitter that the tweet was “not manipulated,” and he retweeted another user who said the company was setting a “dangerous precedent” by labeling the tweet.

Twitter’s rollout of the label was not without technical glitches, however. The label was not showing up when people searched for Scavino’s tweet, though Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said it was appearing in individuals’ timelines. She added the company is working on a fix.

The “misleading” label is one way social media companies are trying to crack down on false and misleading information in 2020, following a 2016 election in which they were widely blamed for allowing incorrect information to circulate on their platforms, influencing the election and providing Russian trolls and bots with entry into the U.S. political system.

But the companies are not acting in tandem, and their policies are inconsistent. Facebook, too, added a warning to the video on Monday morning after it was debunked by one of the company’s fact-checking partners.

“Fact-checkers rated this video as partly false, so we are reducing its distribution and showing warning labels with more context for people who see it, try to share it, or already have,” Facebook spokeswoman Brittany Uter said in a statement. “As we announced last year, the same applies if a politician shares the video, if it was otherwise fact-checked when shared by others on Facebook.”

The company added the label after the Biden campaign blasted its handling of falsehoods on Sunday night.

“Facebook’s malfeasance when it comes to trafficking in blatantly false information is a national crisis in this respect,” Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz said. “It is also an unconscionable act of putting profit above not just our country, but every country. Facebook won’t say it, but it is apparent to all who have examined their conduct and policies: They care first and foremost about money and, to that end, are willing to serve as one of the world’s most effective mediums for the spread of vile lies.”

Twitter’s new policy prohibits sharing synthetic or manipulated media that could cause harm. But as in this instance, the company may apply labels to tweets to help people understand their authenticity or to provide additional context.

It’s rare for Twitter to take action against tweets shared by Trump, even though there have previously been complaints that the president’s tweets violate the company’s policy. Twitter has previously taken action against the president’s tweets for copyright violations.