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Altered Pelosi videos puts social media in congressional crosshairs

Facebook is once again under scrutiny as it continued hosting an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered in a new way to bring bills to the floor. Now members of her party want to use it to repeal the so-called “Cadillac Tax.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered in a new way to bring bills to the floor. Now members of her party want to use it to repeal the so-called “Cadillac Tax.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Facebook last week said it had removed 2 billion fake accounts from its social media platform during the first quarter of this year, an effort it touted in its latest transparency report. But the company is once again in the crosshairs of scrutiny as it continued hosting a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been altered to make it look like she was slurring her speech.

The altered video posted by a group called Politics WatchDog, takes a Pelosi speech from Wednesday and appears to slow it down to make it sound as though she is intoxicated and slurring her words, and pausing longer than usual between thoughts. In thousands of comments left on Facebook, commenters assume Pelosi is drunk and chastise her for it. One commenter said, “How can you have a meaningful meeting with a drunken Speaker of the House?”

The altered video appeared soon after Pelosi told House Democrats in a meeting that she suspected President Donald Trump was engaged in a “cover-up” because he and the White House had refused to comply with subpoenas issued by multiple House committees probing aspects of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and Trump’s financial records.

After Pelosi’s comments, Trump walked out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure investment and held a brief press conference in which he announced he would not work with House Democrats until they halted all their investigations.

It’s not just the Facebook video. Trump tweeted a 30-second video clip taken from Fox Business Network of a 20-minute news conference held by Pelosi that also appears to have been cut and edited down to make it sound like she’s stammering, and Trump’s tweet said, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.” The president’s tweet was viewed 3.9 million times.

Earlier at a White House event, Trump labeled Pelosi as “Crazy Nancy,” after the Speaker said the president was goading House Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.

While several lawmakers have been concerned that artificial intelligence-enabled technology would allow people to post so-called deep fake videos in which a person is saying things he or she may never have said, the latest videos of Pelosi are just old-fashioned edits and done through deliberate slowing down of speed. The presence of the altered videos was first reported by The Washington Post.

The Post reported Facebook was examining the Pelosi video and would reduce its distribution if it was found to be misleading but the video was available on the social media platform as of Friday afternoon.

Separately, the social media company issued its latest report showing how it combats fake accounts and hate speech.

Facebook said in the first quarter of this year the company’s algorithms “proactively” identified hate speech in 65 percent of the cases compared with a year ago when only 38 percent of such material had been proactively identified.

For the quarter ending March, the company said it removed 2.19 billion fake accounts, a significantly higher number than in the past because creators of such fake accounts use automated means to set up accounts, the company said.

“We’ve seen a steep increase in the creation of abusive, fake accounts on Facebook in the last six months,” Facebook said. “We catch most of these accounts within minutes of registration. However, automated attacks have resulted in more of these accounts making it past our initial detection, which increased prevalence.”

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