Twitter seems more than happy to call out manipulated videos put out by the Trump campaign, but it won’t act against videos attacking Trump, twisting his words out of context and spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. On Thursday, Twitter refused to flag as “manipulated media” a video quoting Trump as saying, “The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.” The social media company refused to apply its standard equally, even though multiple independent fact-checkers have exposed this as a lie.
On Wednesday, the Trump campaign altered Twitter to the video, published by Tim O’Brien, former senior advisor to Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign. The video clearly misquotes Trump, yet Twitter refused to mark it as “manipulated media,” The Hill reported Thursday.
— Tim O'Brien (@TimOBrien) March 17, 2020
The president never called the coronavirus a hoax. He said the Democrats’ politicization of the virus was a hoax.
“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” Trump said. “One of my people came up to me and said ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well.’ They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation. This is their new hoax.”
Facebook’s independent fact-checker, the Daily Caller, rated a Politico article as “false” because it claimed Trump had called the virus a “hoax.”
When Joe Biden released an ad twisting Trump’s words to make it seem like he called the coronavirus a hoax, The Washington Post fact-checkers gave his ad Four Pinocchios. “The full quote shows Trump is criticizing Democratic talking points and the media’s coverage of his administration’s response to coronavirus,” the Post concluded. “He never says that the virus itself is a hoax, and although the Biden camp included the word ‘their,’ the edit does not make clear to whom or what Trump is referring.”
The Trump campaign asked Twitter to flag the Biden ad, but the social media company refused to flag or remove it, claiming that its new media manipulation policy was not implemented until after the ad was published on March 3 — and the policy will not be applied retroactively.
But Twitter did not hesitate to mark a Trump campaign video as “manipulated media.” The Trump ad featured footage of Biden saying, “We can only reelect Donald Trump.” In context, the Democratic candidate had said, “We can only reelect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s gotta be a positive campaign.”
The footage in the Trump ad was twisted out of context, yet arguably not as badly as the Biden and Tim O’Brien videos.
Yet Twitter insisted that its analysts found no manipulation. “Our site integrity team has reviewed against the Synthetic and Manipulated Media Policy and determined it does not qualify for a label at this time,” the company told the Trump campaign in an email.
That Twitter would mark the Trump ad as “manipulated” and refuse to mark the Democratic ads belies a painful political bias.
“This is indisputable evidence that Twitter has one rule for the Trump campaign and another rule for Democrats,” Trump campaign spokesman Matt Wolking told The Hill. “Twitter refused to apply its manipulated media label to a Biden campaign video that the Washington Post Fact Checker gave 4 Pinocchios for deceptive editing, and now Twitter is refusing to label a viral video that doctors audio of President Trump to spread misinformation about the coronavirus. Twitter’s political bias is obvious and it is actively choosing to protect Joe Biden.”
After Twitter refused to mark the Biden video as manipulated, the Trump campaign sent a letter to the company, accusing Twitter of instituting a “Biden protection rule” that “censors and silences legitimate political speech Biden’s campaign and its supporters do not like.”
If Twitter refuses to apply its standards on manipulated video fairly, it should immediately cease the practice altogether.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.