These days, it’s hard to trust your own eyes.
Take, for example, some video clips posted on social media by the presidential campaign of former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg. He’s the candidate who apparently did pretty well for himself in last week’s Iowa caucus. At least I think he did. As far as I know, the Democratic Party in Iowa is still trying to track down Edna, the caucus leader from Dubuque, to tally votes from her precinct.
The Buttigieg campaign plucked a couple of video snippets from a CNN town hall meeting some months back that showed their guy answering a question, followed by applause. But these days, it’s hard to get away with anything; just ask Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, caught on video last week pre-tearing a copy of President Trump’s State of the Union speech to make it easier to dramatically tear it in half once the president’s speech ended.
But back to the Buttigieg videos: A group supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president did some checking and exposed a little manipulation of the videos by Mayor Pete’s campaign. In the originals, the applause wasn’t there. Apparently, they added recorded applause to make it appear the town hall audience was enthusiastic about what their candidate had to say.
Maybe Donald Trump would hold more news conferences if he could just push a button to trigger applause for whatever self-aggrandizing comment comes out of his mouth. Then again, it might not be a good idea to give him any additional buttons he can push. He pushes a lot already.
It’s no secret the internet is overrun with material that won’t stand up to scrutiny. Technology has reached a point where audio and video can easily be manipulated for political purposes, for satire or deception.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee recently warned the 435 congressmen not to share “doctored” images or videos that could “erode public trust, effect public discourse or sway an election.”
The Associated Press reported the warning followed a posting on Twitter by Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona. The tweet included a photo manipulated so that it showed President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Gosar including a message: “The world is a better place without these guys in power.”
Obama and Rouhani never met in person.
By the time all was said and done — if anything on the internet every reaches a real conclusion — Gosar’s tweet was retweeted more than 6,000 times and liked more than 22,000 times. Gosar responded that “no one said Obama met with Rouhani in person.”
I suspect Gosar would not be so understanding if someone tweeted, for example, an image of him marching in a rally supporting Planned Parenthood. Gosar declares himself a pro-life candidate.
The Ethics Committee is on target when they suggest lawmakers can do serious damage by nonchalantly redistributing faked photos, videos or other information to their social media followers.
But that applies to all of us social media users, too. One of the weaknesses of social media is the ease with which people can spread provably false information. The more sensational it is, the faster it spreads. And if anyone subsequently tries to correct it — few people actually do even when they learn the truth — those messages get a fraction of the circulation of the original message.
On Monday, YouTube announced it will ban misleading or doctored videos that could affect elections and will promote videos it determines to be authoritative.
My advice: The more an image or video plays into existing beliefs or political stance, the more one should exercise tough scrutiny of its contents before hitting the oh-so-easy share or retweet buttons that attach your name to a falsehood.
Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ NWAGreg.
Print Headline: Greg Harton: ‘Fake views’ a danger for everyone