A Sunday tweet from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) showing a video of activist Ady Barkan got a “manipulated media” label from Twitter. Barkan has ALS and speaks through voice assistance.
In the video, a conversation between Barkan and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Barkan asks “But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” The version Scalise tweeted edits in the words “for police,” to the end of the question, words which Barkan says in a different context earlier in the video.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Verge that the tweet was labeled “based on our Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy.” As of 10:45PM ET Sunday, the tweet with the manipulated video appears to have been deleted from Scalise’s account.
The video was first noticed by Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel.
There’s a clip here of @AdyBarkan, who has ALS and speaks via voice assistance, asking Biden about “re-directing” public safety funding. The clip alters the quote. It splices “for police” into it, using Barkan’s artificial voice. https://t.co/WKkbRzlrXF https://t.co/mUysm9YDeQ pic.twitter.com/uofqi9428E
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) August 30, 2020
In the original video, Barkan asks Biden about what he thinks could be done about police violence. “We can reduce the responsibilities assigned to the police and redirect some of the funding for police into mental health counseling, and affordable housing,” he says. Later in the clip, he asks “do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” to which Biden responds, “yes.”
The edited version of the clip in Scalise’s tweet, adding the words “for police,” at the end of that question, makes it appear that Barkan is asking Biden to defund police completely, a position Biden has said he does not support.
Scalise spokesperson Lauren Fine said in an email to The Verge on Sunday that it was clear in the video that Barkan was asking if Biden was open to redirecting funding away from police.
“Obviously, for a one-minute Twitter video featuring several short clips, we condensed that to the essence of what he was asking, as is common practice for clips run on TV and social media, no matter the speaker; we paired the police portion with Barkan’s final question for clarity because we couldn’t include an entire 3-mintue clip in a one minute montage,” Fine said. “We believe Biden’s position and answer is clear regardless: when asked twice, he says “yes” he is open to redirecting funding away from the police, and that is clear in our video.”
In a tweet Sunday afternoon, Barkan asked Scalise to take the video down. “These are not my words. I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts,” Barkan tweeted. “You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain. Please remove this video immediately. You owe the entire disability community an apology.”
Joe Biden echoed the sentiment in a tweet Sunday night. “This video is doctored — and a flagrant attempt to spread misinformation at the expense of a man who uses assistive technology,” Biden said. “It should be removed. Now.”
Late Sunday night, Scalise tweeted that he would “honor the request of Ady Barkan and remove the portion of his interview from our video.”
A Twitter spokesperson did not elaborate on what specifically in Scalise’s tweet warranted the “manipulated” tag. But if the video was doctored, it violates the social media platform’s policy, which states it’s “most likely to take action … on more significant forms of alteration, such as wholly synthetic audio or video or content that has been doctored (spliced and reordered, slowed down) to change its meaning.”
Social media platforms have tried, with varying degrees of success, to moderate falsified content including “deepfake” videos. Twitter’s policy, for instance, won’t apply to media that has been “edited in ways that do not fundamentally alter their meaning,” such as color-corrected video or retouched photos.
The House of Representatives Ethics Committee announced earlier this year that members who share “deep fakes or other audio-visual distortions intended to mislead the public” could be in violation of the House’s Code of Official Conduct. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted Sunday that Scalise “must take down the doctored video and apologize immediately.”
Scalise’s tweet appeared to have limited engagement as of Sunday afternoon, with no retweets showing in the counter at the bottom of the tweet. In response to an inquiry from The Verge, a Twitter spokesperson pointed to its manipulated media policy, which states that among other actions, Twitter may reduce a tweet’s visibility, which prevents it from being recommended.
Twitter has previously labeled several of President Trump’s tweets with the “manipulated media” tag, including a June tweet that edited video of two children playing to appear that one was chasing the other, and to mimic CNN’s chryon format to make it look like the clip ran on the cable network (it did not).
UPDATE August 30th 2:45PM ET Added comment from Scalise spokesperson.
UPDATE August 30th 7:37PM ET: Added statement from Ady Barkan.
UPDATE August 30th 8:28PM ET: Added statement from Joe Biden.
UPDATE August 30th 11:05PM ET: Added new comment from Scalise and information that the original tweet appears to be deleted, and comment from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.