House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 23, 2019. Pelosi on May 29 strongly rebuked Facebook, saying the company’s refusal to take down an altered video of her demonstrated how the social network contributed to misinformation and enabled Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.Image: Hilary Swift/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday strongly rebuked Facebook, saying the company’s refusal to take down altered videos of her demonstrated how the social network contributed to misinformation and enabled Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians,” Pelosi said in an interview with the public radio station KQED. “I think wittingly, because right now they are putting up something that they know is false.”
Pelosi, a Democrat, is the most powerful politician to accuse Facebook of knowingly allowing disinformation to spread through its service during the last presidential election. Many other politicians have stopped short of that, saying only that the company should have acted faster to stop it.
The comments to the radio station, which is based in San Francisco and broadcasts to much of Pelosi’s district in Northern California, could escalate the clash between lawmakers and Facebook. Officials from both parties have criticized Facebook for acting too slowly to police harmful content, such as a livestream of a shooting this March in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The company is also regularly attacked by Republicans, on occasion for suspending accounts of far-right figures including Alex Jones of Infowars. President Donald Trump and conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have accused Facebook of promoting content from liberal-leaning news organizations and making posts by conservative media outlets and politicians harder to find. Facebook has denied those accusations.
The altered videos of Pelosi first appeared online last week and spread widely on Facebook, YouTube and other online services. In one of the edited videos, Pelosi’s speech appears slowed down and slurred, making her appear drunk. Last Thursday, Trump shared an edited clip from Fox Business that emphasized points where she had stumbled on her words during a news conference.
YouTube said the video that made her appear drunk violated its standards and had been removed. But Facebook allowed it to remain on its site.
In her comments Wednesday, Pelosi said the company’s unwillingness to take down the misleading videos showed that Facebook was “lying to the public.”
“I think they have proven — by not taking down something they know is false — that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election,” she added.
Facebook declined to comment on Pelosi’s remarks. But it has defended its decision not to remove the videos. Facebook does not require posts to be true, but it sometimes slows the spread of certain posts that may be false, such as the video of Pelosi.
“Once the video was fact-checked as false, we dramatically reduced its distribution,” the company has said about the videos. Facebook has tools that allow it to prevent certain content from appearing in its “newsfeed,” the central bar of scrolling information on a user’s page.
“Speed is critical to this system, and we continue to improve our response,” the company has said since shortly after the videos surfaced. “People who see the video in feed, try to share it from feed, or already shared it are alerted that it’s false.”
Facebook also said the altered videos of Pelosi now run with a fact-check box that labels the content as false.
Pelosi’s office declined to comment beyond the interview on KQED.
Social networks have struggled to devise consistent and clear rules about the content they allow on their sites. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have grappled with hate speech, for instance, and have been slow to take down accounts of Jones of Infowars, who spreads conspiracy theories. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has acknowledged that the tech industry cannot solve its problems alone and has called for new regulations.
On Wednesday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, said his two-year investigation found foreign actors used disinformation on social media and other tactics to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
©2019 New York Times News Service