About That Pelosi Video: What to Do About ‘Cheapfakes’ in 2020
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In the summer of 2016, a meme began to circulate on the fringes of the right-wing internet: the notion that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was seriously ill. Clinton suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a brain tumor and seizures, among other things, argued Infowars contributor Paul Joseph Watson in a YouTube video. The meme (and allegations) were entirely unfounded. As reporter Ben Collins describes, however, Watson’s baseless accusation nonetheless spread through the right-wing mediasphere and then reached mainstream audiences through Fox News. “Go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness,’ take a look at the videos for yourself,” Donald Trump’s advisor Rudy Giuliani urged Fox viewers. Almost three years to the date, Giuliani is peddling a similar message about the Democratic Party leader’s health. On May 23, deceptively edited videos of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi began to circulate on Facebook, with footage of a speech given by Pelosi altered to make her appear drunk or unwell. “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi?” Giuliani tweeted, linking to one of the videos. “Her speech pattern is bizarre.” (In an obvious retreat, Giuliani later deleted the tweet.) Later that evening, the president himself tweeted out a link to a different deceptive video, first aired on Lou Dobbs Tonight on Fox News, that used choppy editing to make Pelosi appear to stammer. Though the Washington Post had published an article warning about the deceptively edited Pelosi videos hours before Giuliani’s and Trump’s tweets, that proved no impediment to the videos’ going viral.