In an October 2020 campaign speech in Georgia, just days before the election that sent him to the White House, candidate Joe Biden used a quote from Pope Francis.
The quote is from a letter the pope sent to Roman Catholic bishops, in which he urged world leaders to “ask themselves, ‘Why am I doing this? What is my real goal? »
On social media, former President Donald Trump’s campaign seized the moment to turn it on Biden and portray him as confused and senile – a narrative that Trump and his allies had been pushing for months. With a tweet cutting Biden’s speech to just 7 seconds of video, the campaign gave the impression that Biden was speaking for himself, rather than quoting the letter.
“Joe Biden: ‘Why am I doing this? Why? What is my real goal?’ the Trump War Room account said in the Tweet from October 27. PolitiFact rated the tweet as fake.
Such strategic video cuts were a favorite tactic of the Trump campaign and supporters. Another time, the campaign shared a cut clip it seemed to show Biden saying he was running for the Senate; in context, he was actually talking about running for office as a Democrat throughout his career, including as a U.S. senator.
The misleading video montage turned out to be just a glimpse of what was to come when Biden took control of the White House. The attacks continued during the transition and throughout Biden’s first year.
Social media users, conservative influencers and outlets, and groups like the Republican National Committee have repeatedly targeted the 79-year-old president with truncated, out-of-context clips that misrepresent the meaning of his remarks.
“These clips are inspired by a common trope about President Biden that is popular among his critics: he is old, clumsy and senile, which means he is incompetent and unable to do this job,” said Rebekah Tromble. , director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University.
The tactic is what experts who study misinformation and media manipulation call an “expensive faux pas”, said Claire Wardle, co-founder and executive director of First Draft, a nonprofit that works to protect against harmful misinformation and misinformation.
“It’s the weaponization of the context,” Wardle said. “It’s authentic content, but the context changes via minor edits. Anyone can be vulnerable with the right editing.
Anyone can also be vulnerable to these changes. Experts have warned that Americans surfing social media or watching cable news should be wary of clips that are very short, presented without clear context and aimed at triggering an emotional reaction.
Combining false information with kernels of truth has been a powerful form of propaganda for decades, said Inga Kristina Trauttig, research director and senior fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement.
And it has only extended into the digital age.
But unlike more sophisticated “deep fakes” that use complex technology to swap someone’s face, clone their voice, or lip-sync their lips to a different audio track, cheap fakes are easy to produce. Amateurs with basic software can make edits that slow down a video, speed it up, cut it into snippets, insert or remove details, or present it in false context.
“It’s basically free,” Wardle told PolitiFact. “And if someone says ‘that’s wrong,’ they can say, ‘No, that’s from a real event’.”
One such trend in recent years has seen social media users slow down footage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to give the false impression that she was drunkenly mouthing her words.
As Trump’s team criticized Biden during the campaign as being too old, clumsy and out of touch – a man who wouldn’t leave his basement, had gone senile and didn’t know what he was talking about – Biden became a target main deception edits that sought to reinforce this narrative.
These efforts continued even after the campaign ended. Days before Biden was sworn in, Donald Trump Jr. shared an edited video on Twitter that claimed to show Biden looking confused about where to go after an event ended. The video received millions of views, but it only showed 19 seconds of footage from the event, and it zoomed in on Biden. The result: Viewers failed to see that Biden was actually waiting for others to leave the stage before him.
Many other videos have been similarly edited, shortened to present his words out of context:
- Right-wing influencers including Steven Crowder shared an abridged, out-of-context clip they said showed Biden saying the N-word. ‘hear’ from other world leaders at a conference.
- Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield aired a shortened clip that appeared to show Biden that the United States was “doomed” because of African Americans. In context, Biden was saying that “if we can’t make meaningful progress on racial equity, this country is doomed.”
- A TikTok video reportedly showed Biden telling people that getting the vaccine would protect them against hurricanes. In context, Biden was saying that people living in hurricane-prone states should get vaccinated so they don’t have to worry about getting COVID-19 if they were to evacuate and stay in a shelter with other people.
- A conservative super PAC and other right-wing websites shared an 8-second video to suggest Biden accidentally read the words “end of quote” on his teleprompter. In context, Biden was quoting a statement from the CEO of Walmart celebrating partnerships between private business and government. Biden started with “And I quote.”
- A video shared by conservative websites like Townhall cut Biden off mid-sentence to sound like he was saying high gas prices were all about Americans “paying their fair share.” In context, Biden was talking about lowering prices. The shortened video cut off what he said next – that ‘paying your fair share’ meant ‘not getting ripped off for gas’.
- A Trump Save America PAC ad blasted Biden’s response to the coronavirus by playing a clip of him saying, “Look, there’s no federal solution.” In context, Biden was talking about working with states. He was responding on a conference call to Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who encouraged Biden during a discussion on rapid COVID-19 testing to “make sure we don’t let federal solutions get in the way of state solutions”.
- The RNC tweeted a video that cut Biden off mid-sentence to make it sound like he said answering reporters’ questions was “inappropriate.” In context, Biden was saying he didn’t want to answer questions about his choice to replace retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer after an event honoring Breyer, because Breyer was in the room and is ” still sitting on the bench. Biden said he would take questions later in the day and week.
“It’s hard to objectively assess whether someone, especially someone as high profile as the president, is aloof or not,” Trauttig said of the misleading clips. “However, it is easy to manipulate media content that provides a clear image in one direction.”
The White House declined to comment for this story.
It’s not just Biden who has been targeted during this time. Other members of Biden’s White House have had the meaning of their words twisted in videos that have gone viral. They include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser, and Jen Psaki, the press secretary.
But videos that take Biden out of context are particularly effective, Tromble said, because they build on Biden’s reputation, which dates back to his days as a senator, for being gaffe-prone.
Biden committed a number of verbal gaffes during the campaign trail. It has continued ever since, such as when he stumbled in his description of Satchel Paige as a great black league baseball pitcher, prompting critics to say he called Paige a “nigger.”
Biden grew up stuttering. The fact that his stutter remains unknown to many Americans “makes it easy for his opponents to create fake but compelling clips of President Biden,” Tromble said.
The clips also resonate with some voters’ perception that politicians in Washington are detached, and they also fit the image some Trump voters have carved out for Biden as the weak and fragile counterpart to Trump’s combativeness, officials said. experts.
Experts who study disinformation recommend that when people come across clips of public figures from either political party that have been cut – and especially when the clips go viral that are only a few seconds long – they should consider the source of the information and research the full context. Biden’s remarks are usually televised and transcribed on the White House website.
“I always advise people to pause for a second whenever they come across media that elicits strong emotional reactions,” Tromble added. “We have to catch our breath and ask ourselves, ‘Is there a reason why I feel so upset? Is this designed to piss me off?’”
This article was originally published by PolitiFact, part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.