Twitter on Wednesday flagged as “manipulated media” a tweet that President Trump had sent some hours earlier, which featured a video of his opponent Joe Biden, but with the song “Despacito” that Biden had been playing replaced with another song, “F**k Tha Police.”
It’s a move Twitter finds itself having to make increasingly often as Election Day approaches and Trump and his allies continue to share edited and doctored videos on social media.
But though Twitter has been more willing to take action than its rivals have, that action still amounts only to affixing a tiny label under edited videos – a label that might easily be missed by Twitter users and that reads only “Manipulated Media” without explaining how the video has been edited and if it is false. Twitter is reluctant to remove posts sent by politicians because it says those tweets, even if false or crude, can play an important role in public debate.
Users, if they see the label in the first place, can click on it to find more information — sometimes, for instance, a list of tweets from journalists explaining how the video is false. Whether they click or not, they are free to share the tweet as they see fit.
This is different from the strategy Twitter uses to address text tweets that contain voter misinformation, which have also been shared by the President. In those instances, labeling is more prominent and some restrictions are put on how those labeled tweets can be shared.
The Trump tweet that prompted a label from Twitter on Wednesday was a video that had originally showed Biden playing the song “Despacito” on his cell phone at an event with Latino voters in Florida on Tuesday.
The version Trump shared made it seem like Biden had instead played the N.W.A. song “F**k Tha Police.”
“What is this all about?” Trump asked in his tweet accompanying the video.
Over the course of Tuesday, footage of Biden rather awkward swaying to Fonsi’s “Despacito” had drawn amusement on social media. The video was prime material to be turned into a meme, with internet users easily swapping out the “Despacito” audio with a song of their choice.
Brad Parscale, the former Trump campaign manager who is now a senior advisor on the campaign, shared a version of the video on Tuesday night that was dubbed with the Pixies song “Where is My Mind?” That version of the video had not been labeled as manipulated by Twitter by Wednesday morning — highlighting another issue with Twitter’s enforcement.
For those who spend a lot of their time on the internet, it would have been clear by Wednesday morning that the video Trump shared had been dubbed. His supporters argued it was clearly a joke.
But for others it might not be all that clear, especially because the context in which Trump shared the video — Trump and allies regularly and falsely alleging that Biden disdains law enforcement — aligns with the picture the Trump campaign is trying to paint of the Democratic nominee for president. (See here how the Trump campaign regularly take Biden’s comments on policing out of context.)
CNN has documented multiple other instances in which Trump and senior Republicans have shared deceptively edited videos, which sometimes are viewed millions of times.
One false video shared by White House social media director Dan Scavino last month made it appear that Biden had fallen asleep during a television interview. Biden hadn’t – in fact, the interview never even happened.
That video was also affixed with a tiny Twitter label. It was eventually removed from the platform, but due to a copyright claim, not because of its falsity. By the time it had been taken down it had been viewed more than 2.4 million times.