If someone purposefully cut off the end of a sentence so that it completely changed its meaning and then circulated it, would that be wrong?
Of course it would be; any 7th grader wouldn’t argue against that in an ethics class.
But that is what happened on the national stage last weekend. Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, on Saturday took a piece of video from a Joe Biden speech, cut it and posted it on Twitter and Facebook.
What Mr. Biden actually said was, “We can only re-elect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s got to be a positive campaign.”
What Mr. Scavino posted was a manipulated video showing Mr. Biden saying, “We can only re-elect Donald Trump.”
Putting politics aside for a moment, what is remarkable about the incident is that Facebook didn’t remove the video or even flag it as misinformation. Twitter at least labeled the video manipulated content, but only after users flagged it the following day. Facebook, on the other hand, refused to do anything about it, saying, according to the New York Times, that speech, even if false, is important to political discourse.
Further, a statement from Facebook on Monday said that fact checkers rated the video as “partly false.” Only then did they add a warning label.
It might have been partial, but it wasn’t partly false; it was absolutely false.
We said it before, but it bears repetition: traditional media are held to much higher standards than the digisphere. Inaccuracies are forgiven when it comes to public officials, but purposeful inaccuracies are not. A newspaper that purposefully publishes a falsehood about a political figure is subject to libel and is exposed to a lawsuit.
Facebook thrives on engagement: the more users engage, the more money the company can make. To say that a doctored video is important to political discourse is a deflection from the truth. Facebook should be held accountable.