Facebook defends decision not to remove fake Pelosi video

WASHINGTON • There is no dispute that the Facebook video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, viewed by millions is a fake, deliberately altered to make her appear drunk.

YouTube acted fast and removed duplicates. Other social media outlets have not made the same call. Facebook acknowledged the video is "false" - but said the videos would remain on the platform.

Amid fierce calls across the public and government for Facebook to remove the video - which has been viewed 2.6 million times - and others like it, a Facebook official took to CNN last Friday to defend its decision.

Ms Monika Bickert, a company vice-president for product policy and counter-terrorism, said the video was reviewed by fact-checking organisations and, after it was deemed the video was a hoax, the company "dramatically" reduced its distribution.

But Facebook did not remove the video, Ms Bickert said. "We think it's important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe. Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information," she said.

A question has vexed lawmakers and Silicon Valley for years, particularly after massive disinformation campaigns were harnessed in the 2016 US presidential election: Should platforms like Facebook be considered "news publishers", and should they handle information like one?

CNN host Anderson Cooper believes the answer is yes, and pressed Ms Bickert on her company's responsibilities. "You're making money by being in the news business," he said. "If you can't do it well, shouldn't you just get out of the news business?"


She rejected the premise in a tense back-and-forth. "We aren't in the news business. We're in the social media business," she said, adding that the company removes content deemed a threat to public safety, or from fake accounts.

Ms Bickert said earlier in the segment that the original video is now tagged with fact-checker icons underneath the post. But even Internet novices have internalised small icons under posts as either related videos or advertisements and easily gloss over them, potentially missing Facebook's main effort to alert users to the disinformation.

Analysts have warned about "deepfake" videos that use sophisticated editing and artificial intelligence software to create the appearance of someone doing something they did not, which have been used to embarrass and harass targeted women.

But the Pelosi video is a clear case of how even low-tech, relatively simple editing can dupe viewers and trigger widespread disinformation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2019, with the headline 'Facebook defends decision not to remove fake Pelosi video'. Print Edition | Subscribe