Trump campaign presses Twitter to label Biden video as ‘manipulated’

President Trump‘s reelection campaign is pressing Twitter to label a video posted by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as “manipulated,” the latest salvo in the escalating war between Democrats and Republicans over online political misinformation and what the social media companies should do about it. 

The Trump campaign is hitting back after Twitter placed its new “manipulated media” label on an edited video of Biden, which was passed around by Trump supporters and shared by White House social media adviser Dan Scavino on Sunday. 

In a new letter, the Trump campaign accused the social media giant of favoring the former vice president over Trump as it applies new policies against deceptively edited videos.

“It appears that many people employed by Big Tech corporations in Silicon Valley are assisting the Biden campaign by instituting a special ‘Biden protection rule’ that effectively censors and silences legitimate political speech Biden’s campaign and its supporters do not like,” wrote Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, in a letter on Monday. 

“In order for American elections to remain free and fair, it is critical that the Biden campaign be held to the same standard it is demanding apply to others,” he wrote.

“Therefore, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., is formally requesting that Twitter apply its new ‘manipulated media’ label to a doctored and deceptively edited video tweeted by the Biden campaign less than a week ago,” Glassner wrote. “This Biden campaign video manipulates audio and video of President Trump in order to mislead Americans and give a false impression.” 

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

The video in question, which was posted two days before Twitter’s new policy went into effect, includes clips of Trump calling the coronavirus and climate change a “hoax,” as well as calling neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Va., “fine people.”

“This has to stop,” the Biden campaign advertisement reads. “We fight back.” The post encourages voters to support Biden. 

The Trump campaign says the clips are cut misleadingly, pointing out that a fact-checking institution recently said Trump never called coronavirus a “hoax.” The campaign also noted that Trump said the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville should be “condemned totally.”

The calls for labeling Biden’s campaign video are a slight change of pace from the Trump campaign, which has lambasted social media companies over any efforts to crack down on misinformation, particularly in political advertisements. 

A Twitter spokesperson said in an email that the company “has received the letter and intend[s] to respond.” According to Twitter, the video flagged by the Trump campaign was posted before Twitter began enforcing its new policy against “manipulated media” on March 5. The company has said it is not applying the policy retroactively. 

The edited video of Biden, which incited the initial back-and-forth, remains on Twitter’s platform with a label that reads “manipulated media.” Meanwhile, the Biden video is available behind a warning message on Facebook, where one of the platform’s fact-checkers rated the video partly false on Monday. 

The latest controversy highlights the ongoing battle over how the platforms should deal with misleading videos featuring high-profile political figures, who can tap their robust political organizations to pressure social media companies into taking down or leaving up certain videos. 

For months, social media companies have fielded calls from the public and mostly Democratic lawmakers demanding that they step up efforts to combat the spread of misinformation on their platforms. 

The controversy was originally sparked last year by Trump campaign ads attacking Biden, which critics said promoted falsehoods.  

Democrats have continued to beat the drum for months, and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said he’s working on legislation that would force the tech platforms to remove any political misinformation from their platforms. 

Last month, the issue gained new scrutiny when a number of House Democrats pressed Twitter and Facebook to take down an edited video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that was posted by President Trump, opening up a new front after Twitter and Facebook decided to leave up a different edited video of Pelosi posted by Trump last year.

The five-minute video, which was pinned to the top of Trump’s Twitter feed for days, showed Pelosi ripping up Trump’s State of the Union speech in February as he reunited a military family, announced a scholarship award for a young girl and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh. 

“Powerful American stories ripped to shreds by Nancy Pelosi,” read the text at the top of the video. 

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley and is a close Pelosi ally, tweeted, “@Twitter must take this misleading video about @SpeakerPelosi down now. Social media platforms are a place where people come for news & information. They need to have certain standards.” 

Since last year, Facebook and Twitter have both announced new policies to curb misleading or fabricated videos — though Facebook’s is much more narrowly tailored to curb images and videos that have been technically manipulated using artificial intelligence. 

Critics have raised concerns that broad policies against edited footage could wind up chilling free speech and potentially sweeping up normal political attack ads. 

Some advocates say that the political squabbling over particular videos misses the broader point: that the largest social media platforms may have too much control over political discourse in the U.S.

“Instead of going back and forth over edited videos of Joe Biden, we should be working to address the underlying, systemic issues that make Big Tech a threat to our democracy,” said Evan Greer, a digital rights activist with the group Fight for the Future. 

Updated at 2:26 p.m.

Tags David Cicilline Donald Trump Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Ro Khanna

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