Twitter announced last month it would start flagging content the company and moderators decided was manipulated to deceive their users. The fear at the time was that this would of course be applied as Twitter deemed fit — decisions would be based solely on the personal opinions of the moderator or moderators.
That fear now seems real. Twitter flagged a video clip of presidential candidate Joe Biden stumbling over his words at a recent campaign rally. Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media manager tweeted out a clip of the speech, which Twitter flagged as ‘manipulated media’.
The trouble is, under the definition of what manipulation is and how that applies to video, the clip Twitter flagged was not manipulated. Instead Twitter is simply flagging context. That is a road which seems certain to end badly for Twitter and its user base. In the clip that Scavino shared and was spread, mostly as a viral joke video, Joe Biden says ‘…because we cannot get re-elect, we can not win this re-election, excuse me, we can only re-elect Donald Trump’. The part that didn’t make into the viral video was Biden continuing ‘if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s gotta be a positive campaign.’
Once again, there was nothing manipulated about the actual clip. Biden did in fact say the words in the clip and there were no dancing gingerbread men added to his shoulders (which is what Michael Bloomberg’s campaign did to Trump). The clip was edited in a way to highlight Joe Biden’s many and numerous verbal gaffes over the years and of this current campaign. At another campaign event just recently, Biden mixed his name up with Barack Obama, calling himself ‘O’Biden-Bama-Democrat’. At another small gathering, he forgot Barack Obama’s name completely. This all happened on the heels of Biden forgetting the words of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ Biden stumbled during a campaign event in Texas. ‘All men and women created by you know, you know, the thing.’ And that’s not even to mention Biden confusing his wife with his sister.
Twitter is decidedly putting its thumb on the scale of the election by selectively labeling media that has not been manipulated. What Twitter is de facto saying is: for proper context, whole speeches and rallies must be broadcast at all times in their entirety. You can argue about the Trump campaign taking clips and using them to their advantage as underhanded politics, but they are not manipulating video.
For Twitter to enforce this policy fairly across their platform, they should label any tweets or clips of Trump’s words in regards to the spreading coronavirus as a ‘hoax’, as several media outlets and Democrat politicians spread. ‘They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax,’ was President Trump’s exact quote, but members of the media and Democrats ran with it anyway. Twitter failed to label any such classification as manipulated media. Joe Biden’s campaign and the candidate himself have alleged Trump said the virus itself was a hoax. Twitter did not correct them.
Another case would be Trump’s comments in the wake of the Charlottesville rally that saw one person murdered. Trump’s comments in the aftermath were wildly distorted and spread on a mass scale by members of the news media when they claimed Trump said there ‘were very fine people on both sides.’ This gave the distorted context that he had affirmed and supported white supremacists attending the march that prior evening. Twitter once again took no such action to correct edited video clips in which Trump also stated: ‘I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.’
Twitter is making a clear pitch, not to fact-check media that is spread on its platform, but to insert itself into the context and editorial process of user-posted content. Twitter has no such documented history or confidence from users that they can be trusted to editorialize fairly. Twitter’s platform is one of rigorous and humorous debate, which often includes funny video clips or memes. Unless it’s a case of personal threats or abuse, it’s not Twitter’s job to assign context to a user’s intended tweet. Or it shouldn’t be.