You might think that this is such an egregious fake — the song Biden was actually playing was the Luis Fonsi 2017 hit “Despacito” because Fonsi had introduced him at the event — and that no sentient person would believe Biden would associate himself with a song encouraging the killing of cops.
The faked tweet was trying to scare voters by falsely suggesting that Biden opposes law enforcement (though switching the songs made an unintended point about how enduring this issue has been — the N.W.A. song is 32 years old).
But Trump’s retweet put his stamp of approval on deliberate deception. And Trump has more than 86 million followers on Twitter, most of whom eat up what he has to say.
What seems even more egregious is that Twitter could offer no more disapproval of its service being misused than to slap onto Trump’s tweet a small-type footnote — in pastel blue, no less — identifying the video as “manipulated media.”
Not only was the label easy to miss, but “manipulated” is a weasel word in this context. Could Twitter have chosen anything milder? “Fine-tuned media” maybe? Or “adjusted media” perhaps? Did they consider “lightly spun media?”
If they were not going to remove the tweet entirely, they should have gone with something dead-on honest like: “completely fabricated and false media.” It probably should have been in caps, at the top of the tweet — and in red.
Twitter labeled that one “manipulated media” as well. Later, both Twitter and Facebook actually took down that video, but not because it was doctored. They took it down because one of the parents made a copyright complaint. (And by that time, it had 20 million views on Twitter and 4 million on Facebook.)
Twitter also put a warning label on the infamous Trump tweet that stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter noted that the tweet glorified violence, and made it inaccessible unless a viewer visited the tweet directly by clicking a “view” button.
The growing number of episodes like these might lead to the conclusion that a pattern is forming. And some may think it would be reasonable to put in place new standards that would immediately remove and condemn this kind of systematic disinformation.
But Twitter, which seems to actually care a bit about the potential impact of disinformation, is caught in the same trap that many journalism outlets still find themselves stuck in: As they cover this administration, they continue to try to follow the standard rules of media behavior — observation not condemnation, no fingers on the scale, no rush to judgement — even as so many standards of government behavior are violated and tossed aside.
This latest instance is just another case of Trump pushing limits and encountering only mild pushback. The lack of forceful action by Twitter encourages more of the same, and we are likely to see ever more extreme examples.
Twitter needs guts. Doctored, deceptive tweets should get taken down immediately. As it is, every time Twitter goes so far as to limit access to a Trump tweet, or posts an overt warning on one, the blowback is ferocious. The cry from Trump and his backers is always that social media is biased against conservatives. The response from Twitter ought to be, “No, we are just biased against lying.”
But no business wants to alienate a huge section of its customers. So Twitter still treads lightly. And the Trumpists apply ever more heavier hands.