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20 Feb, 2020 22:29

Deepfakes for me, but not for thee? Bloomberg campaign releases altered video of lackluster debate performance

Deepfakes for me, but not for thee? Bloomberg campaign releases altered video of lackluster debate performance

Billionaire Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg has released a doctored video showing his rivals struck dumb by his brilliance after a widely-panned debate performance. So much for social media’s war on fake videos…

The clip shows a smug Bloomberg challenging the other candidates to match his business acumen. “I’m the only one here I think that’s ever started a business. Is that fair?” he asks in the clip, posted to Twitter on Thursday. As the camera cuts from one dumbstruck face to another for 20 uncomfortable seconds, the sound of crickets underscores his rivals’ utter failure to muster any challenge to his truth.

The only problem? The video has been deceptively edited, and not merely to add the cricket-chirp soundtrack. Those who hadn’t watched the debate might come away from watching the clip unaware that in real life, Bloomberg’s challenge was followed by a little over a second of silence before the candidate himself let out a self-satisfied “OK” and launched into a defense of his job training programs as mayor.

Bloomberg’s defenders rushed to argue that the altered video was clearly a joke – a ‘meme’, as the kids might say – but Democratic Party leaders have demanded the takedown of videos for far less. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered social media platforms to remove a clip of her repeatedly ripping up President Donald Trump’s speech at various points during his State of the Union address earlier this month, for example, even though the clip was clearly not meant to be taken literally. While the platforms refused to take down that particular video, some versions of an earlier altered clip of Pelosi, slowed down to make her appear drunk, were removed from Facebook.

Also on rt.com YouTube bans misleading election videos, ‘birther’-esque theories, and deepfakes… just in time for Iowa primary

With Twitter and YouTube both touting crackdowns on “election-related disinfo” in the last month, Bloomberg’s foray into viral video would seem to fall squarely into the forbidden zone. Twitter’s new rules call for labeling “synthetic or manipulated” content, including “visual or auditory information that has been added or removed,” while YouTube announced a blanket ban on deepfakes earlier this month. While the Bloomberg video doesn’t quite rise to the level of a deepfake – it’s the other candidates’ silence, rather than their words, being used to make them look bad – it’s certainly deceptive.

Respondents on social media noted that Bloomberg was doing exactly what Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren – one of the former New York mayor’s most piercing critics on the debate stage – had predicted he would do: weaponizing his campaign war chest to memory-hole what was widely perceived as a dismal performance.

There were a flood of Trump comparisons, including “vote blue no matter who” standard-bearers who’d hoped they could hold their noses and vote for Bloomberg if it meant beating Trump.

Others were more blunt in their disapproval, surprised that Twitter had left the fake video up than that Bloomberg had dropped it in the first place.

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