The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Twitter labels Trump video tweet as manipulated media as it cracks down on misinformation

Move marks the fourth time Twitter has added labels to the president’s tweets.

President Trump tweeted a doctored version of a video that went viral in 2019 that showed two toddlers, one black and one white, hugging. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Twitter on Thursday evening took the rare step of appending a warning label to one of President Trump’s tweets after the company determined it violated its policies on manipulated media.

The president tweeted a doctored version of a popular video that went viral in 2019 that showed two toddlers, one black and one white, hugging. In the version Trump shared, the video was edited with ominous music and a fake CNN headline that says, “Terrified toddler runs from racist baby.”

“Racist baby probably a Trump voter,” the headline then says in a subsequent screen.

The video cuts to the original clip of the children hugging, then shows the message: “America is not the problem. Fake news is.”

Twitter and Facebook on Friday both removed the video, after receiving complaints from the copyright owner of the original video. Now Twitter has appended a gray box where the video once appeared that says, “This media has been disabled in response to a report by the copyright owner.” The warning label also remains on the tweet.

“Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” Twitter spokesman Ian Plunkett said in a statement.

Facebook, meanwhile, did not take action against the post for violating its manipulation policies but did act on the copyright complaint. “We received a copyright complaint from the rights holder of this video under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and have removed the post,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement.

CNN responded to the edited Trump video on Twitter, saying it did cover the story “exactly as it happened.”

Twitter’s manipulated-media label is the latest flash point in a contentious debate over tech companies’ responsibility to police falsehoods and hoaxes spread by politicians on their platforms. It could worsen an already tense relationship between Silicon Valley and Trump, who has escalated his claims in recent weeks that social media titans are biased against conservatives.

Trump has also criticized the companies — particularly Twitter — for censoring him. Meanwhile, social media has become a major way he communicates with constituents, with more than 82 million followers on Twitter and tweets that come day and night.

The video had received roughly 3.8 million views and more than 75,000 retweets at the time of Twitter’s label.

“This tweet has been labeled per our synthetic and manipulated media policy to give people more context,” Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said late Thursday.

Twitter’s decision to label Trump’s tweets was two years in the making

The White House on Friday morning criticized the company’s decision.

“If Twitter is not careful, it’s going to have to label itself a ‘manipulator,’ ” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email.

Michael D. Cisneros, the father of one of the boys who posted the original video, pushed back on Trump’s version of the video. “HE WILL NOT TURN THIS LOVING, BEAUTIFUL VIDEO TO FURTHER HIS HATE AGENDA,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

This is the third time that the company has announced that it would take action against one of the president’s tweets. Twitter has previously appended labels to a pair of Trump’s tweets that made misleading claims about mail-in ballots, as well as another post that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” for violating its terms on violence.

Trump lashed out at Twitter after the company’s initial decision to label his tweets regarding the mail-in ballots. He also signed an executive order that week that sought to punish social media companies by calling on federal regulators to reexamine a key legal shield that gives tech companies broad immunity for the posts and photos people share on their services.

Trump lashes out at social media companies after Twitter labels tweets with fact checks

Twitter’s decision to label the tweets is the culmination of incremental processes intended to dismantle a long-standing exception that the social media industry has made for the speech of politicians. Social media companies are under increased pressure to moderate content on their websites — especially from the Oval Office — as concerns mount about misinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic and the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

In March, Twitter also applied a similar manipulated-media warning to a video tweeted by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. that Trump retweeted.

Twitter implemented its manipulated-media policy March 5 to stem the spread of doctored photos and videos that could mislead users. Democrats ratcheted up pressure on companies to address the issue after videos edited to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appear drunk went viral on multiple social networks.

Meanwhile, video social media platform Snapchat has taken a different approach in seeking to limit the reach of Trump’s account. The company said it would no longer feature Trump in its “Discover” tab, though people can still search for the president’s account. Snapchat did not have an immediate comment on the toddler video, which was also posted to its platform.

Twitter flags Trump, White House for ‘glorifying violence’ after tweeting Minneapolis looting will lead to ‘shooting’

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the president’s previous posts haven’t violated the company’s policies, drawing ire from employees.

The company on Thursday removed Trump campaign ads that included a symbol once used by the Nazis to designate political prisoners in concentration camps. The red inverted triangles were part of the campaign’s latest attack against antifa and “far-left groups.” Facebook has also removed ads from the president in the past that were criticized for making misleading claims about the U.S. census.

Twitter previously labeled Trump’s tweet on fraudulent mail-in ballots with a label that says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” It redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.

For the tweet that threatened violence against looters, Twitter added a gray box that now hides the tweet from public view unless a user clicks on it. The box reads, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” The move also prevented other users from liking the president’s tweet or sharing it without appending comment.

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted late last month, adding, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The edited video that Twitter labeled Thursday credited the user @CarpeDonktum, who has long been a favored purveyor of memes by Trump and his allies. Trump last year invited @CarpeDonktum to attend a White House summit on social media, where he railed against the companies for being biased against conservatives and praised his online supporters.

Critics warned that the event could embolden digital provocateurs to be more aggressive in their tactics to support the president in an election year.

“Bahahahahaha,” @CarpeDonktum said in a tweet Thursday night, in response to Twitter’s label.

President Trump is trying to use an arcane law, Section 230, as a political weapon. Here's what it could mean for the future of the Internet. (Video: The Washington Post)