This is Silly: Pelosi Says Facebook Is A 'Willing Enabler' Of Russian Election Meddling. It Is Not

from the don't-be-ridiculous dept

I know that it’s fun and easy to attack Facebook these days — and the company certainly deserves all sorts of criticism. But the criticism should be within the realm of reality. And the latest, from Nancy Pelosi, is not that. As you may have heard, there’s all sorts of controversy over the past week or so concerning Facebook’s decisions on how to moderate purposefully doctored videos of Pelosi, that are either edited or just slowed down to make it appear (falsely) that she is stumbling over words or slurring them. As we pointed out, there are good arguments from a variety of different perspectives on how Facebook should handle this. Currently, it is limiting the ability for the video to spread algorithmically, and when people try to share it manually, it pops up a warning about how the video has issues and you might want to think twice about sharing it.

That said, it wasn’t even the video that was making the rounds on Facebook that got all the attention. Instead, Fox News ran a similar video, and that’s the one that President Trump himself tweeted. And yet, oddly, everyone seems to be rushing to blame Facebook. The latest to step up to the plate is Nancy Pelosi herself, who is now saying that Facebook choosing not to pull down the video means the company is a “willing enabler” of Russian election interference:

“We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians. I think wittingly, because right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it’s wrong,” she said. “I can take it. … But [Facebook is] lying to the public.”

She added: “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.”

This is such nonsense on so many levels. Of course, this is the same Nancy Pelosi who recently attacked Section 230 of the CDA and misrepresented what it does, so perhaps she can team up with all the Republicans in Congress making similar attacks on CDA 230 and kill the internet.

It is totally reasonable to say that Facebook was incompetent in dealing with Russian interference on its platform (it appears it was). It’s totally reasonable to argue that Facebook drastically underestimated the ability of such interference, and neglected to be concerned about it for way too long. However, the company has made a lot of changes in the last couple years, and you’re simply not paying attention if you don’t think the company now cares quite a bit about the issue. But it’s still going to face the same problem we’ve been discussing for years: content moderation at scale is impossible to do well, and some people are always going to disagree with certain decisions.

I completely understand the views of many that Facebook should have pulled down this video. But it is not an easy question and it is not one where the decision not to pull the video means that the company is “willingly enabling” propaganda (Russian or otherwise). As we pointed out just recently about this, how do you write rules that would make it obvious and clear for Facebook to remove a distorted video like that, that doesn’t also force it to remove satire, humor, political speech, etc. This was the point raised by the UN’s expert on free expression David Kaye:

And, even more to the point, how do you write a standard for Facebook to remove “false” information, “disinformation” or even “propaganda” that doesn’t also lead to the removal of religious texts and proselytizing.

Point is: this is not easy. And many of these cases involve careful judgment calls where there is a tremendous gray area, rather than “black” and “white” decisions. It’s one thing to say that you disagree with Facebook’s decision, and argue for why you would have come down differently. There are ways to do that that would be compelling, certainly. But that’s not what Pelosi is doing,. Instead, she’s smearing all of Facebook in claiming that because it came down differently on this particular issue, that it means they’re in bed with Russian election meddling. That’s Louis Gohmert-level crazy.

Meanwhile, it really is amazing that nearly everyone is so focused on Facebook over this video when it was the Fox News version that the President retweeted. Yesterday, we highlighted how an opinion piece in the NY Times by Kara Swisher claimed that no network would air such a thing… ignoring that Fox News did exactly that. At least now, there’s another opinion piece in the NY Times by Farhad Manjoo pointing out how weird it is that everyone’s focused on Facebook instead of Fox:

In going after Facebook, many observers forgot about Rupert Murdoch?s empire, whose Fox Business spinoff aired a similarly misleading Pelosi hit job on ?Lou Dobbs Tonight.? This was upside down. While newfangled digital manipulations should raise some concern, they are still emerging, long-range threats, and social networks are at least experimenting with ways to mitigate their negative impact on society. But we don?t have much hope nor many good ideas for limiting the lies of old-media outlets like Fox News, which still commands the complete and slavish attention of tens of millions of Americans every night, polluting the public square with big and small lies that often ricochet across every platform, from cable to YouTube to Facebook to Google, drowning us all in a never-ending flood of fakery.

Indeed, what was remarkable about Fox?s Pelosi video was its very ordinariness. Instead of slowing down Pelosi?s speech, Fox Business misleadingly spliced together lots of small sections of a recent news conference to make it look as if Pelosi stammered worse than Porky Pig.

As Manjoo notes, it actually appears that Facebook’s response to the Pelosi video was perfectly reasonable:

But what the company did do ? label the clip as misinformation and limit its virality so that very few people got to see it ? struck me as a reasonable effort to quash the lie, especially since I worry about Facebook?s overreach. Demanding that Facebook remove posts that cross some hard-to-define line may end up dragooning lots of legitimate political speech into its memory hole. Such a policy would also enrich Mark Zuckerberg with the last thing we should want him to have: more power over what we read, watch, listen to and think about.

Fox News, on the other hand, wasn’t just a platform where any nut job troll could post a video. It’s a huge media outlet, watched by millions of devoted fans who take everything on it as gospel. And its employees were literally the ones who decided to post this video.

As we noted earlier this year, a recent book from Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts, shows (with lots and lots and lots of data to back it up) that the real “propaganda” effect during and after the 2016 election was heavily driven by Fox News, and not by Facebook. For all the fretting about Facebook, it seems that those concerns are totally mistargeted.

And yet, of course, no one (least of all Pelosi) seems willing to attack Fox News, or to call it a “willing enabler” of Russian election interference. Indeed, doing so would lead to widespread attacks, and even (somewhat questionable) claims of 1st Amendment concerns of a politician meddling with the press. Yet few seem to blink an eye when she mistargets Facebook with the same criticism.

I’ll repeat it again: it is perfectly reasonable to dislike Facebook. To dislike it’s practices. To dislike it’s decision on the Pelosi video. But to conclude that this makes it a “willing enabler” of Russian election interference is disconnected from reality.

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Comments on “This is Silly: Pelosi Says Facebook Is A 'Willing Enabler' Of Russian Election Meddling. It Is Not”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: One rule to ring them all...

In her mind there is no difference between the video of her and satire, dissent, humor, and political speech, they are all one and the same and they all need to go…

We protect the right to say what we say, not your right to say what you say…

Thad (profile) says:

Re: No Mr. Zuckerburg

I think framing the backlash against Facebook as partisan is a mistake. I think there’s a growing backlash against both Facebook and Twitter, both among Democrats angry about things like Cambridge Analytica and Republicans angry about things like banning Alex Jones.

I think there’s a good chance we’ll see legislation targeting the big social networking sites regardless of who controls Congress.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Off the top of my head? They could weaken Section 230. (I mean, more than they already have with FOSTA.) I think that’s a colossally bad idea, but it doesn’t violate the First Amendment.

But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they’ll pass restrictions that do violate the First Amendment. Just because something’s unconstitutional doesn’t mean Congress won’t pass it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Therein lies the problem: How will they target only “big” social networking sites?

That part would be easy. Just say "this law only applies to social media platforms with 1 million or more users/subscribers".

Such laws would have a huge 1st Amendment hurdle to clear here in the U.S., but targeting only the big platforms isn’t that hard.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: No Mr. Zuckerburg

It isn’t a good idea to piss off the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

It also isn’t a good idea to have a country where citizens have to live in fear of pissing off government officials.

That’s hardly what the Founders had in mind.

They work for us, not the other way around. As long as I’m breaking no laws, I shouldn’t have to care one whit whether Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump is mad about something I said or how I run my business.

Let's get Silly says:

Facebook is bad. We must saddle upon our rainbow dragons and slay the mighty beast with our Guitar Swords and reveal that Zuckerberg is actually Magneto in disguise. He must be stopped because…well no reason. People like to complain.

I’m sure that when Facebook was created it was intended to be a platform that spreads false information and harm to the world. There’s sarcasm somewhere in here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You do know the story of how Facebook was started, right?

I’m having a hard time finding the sarcasm.

That said, I don’t think Facebook as it is today is intrinsically bad — it’s just badly architected and run by people who put their own self interest above the privacy of the people who sign up to their service. If facebook features were all opt-in and you got to manage your entire reach in your social network, and pulling data removed it from the entire network, I’d be reasonably OK with it. Of course, it may not be able to be profitable in that form.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Happens all the time really

He’s your president… bro. Whether you like it or not… and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t really find anything worse than what the cockroaches in DC have been doing for years. Cheaters, liars and thieves. The whole bunch. Trump may be a douche bag but you sound like a bitch.

Nick-B (profile) says:

If we had to take down anything that was false, our TV channels would be filled with nothing but infomercials ("this knife cuts!"), documentaries ("penguins are an animal!"), weather ("the temperature of the air surrounding our thermometer is exactly…"), and news ("A thing happened today…").

Say goodbye to movies, drama shows, action shows, investigator shows, and "reality" TV.

Anonymous Coward says:

slippery slope

Most of the time, Facebook and Twitter censor and ban more readily than Youtube. The Pelosi video(s) became notable for being one of the rare exceptions, with Youtube eradicating all copies off the platform on an ongoing basis, while Facebook and Twitter opted to allow it, presumably in the name of free-speech.

This is quite a turnaround, and it’s amazing that FB and Twitter’s failure to censor is somehow considered more controversial than Youtube’s decision to censor the kind of video it has never censored before.

This issue goes beyond the whole concept of free speech. Politicians should never be a protected class, and people should be able to publish anything about them, no matter how inaccurate or deceptive it might turn out to be. Thin-skinned politicians who can’t stand being libeled, slandered, and defamed should find another line of work, instead of acting to shut down such speech.

Does it not bother old-school liberals that it’s now the Republicans who have increasingly become the free-speech party, while the Democrats have increasingly become the party of censorship?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There must be hundreds if not thousands of slowed-down "Drunk Trump" videos uploaded to YouTube. Here is one I found of his inauguration speech:

But unlike the Pelosi video, which YouTube went to great lenghts to eradicate any trace of, these "Drunk Trump" videos are very easy to find on Youtube. Apparently it’s perfectly OK to post tons of slowed-down/edited/doctored Trump videos on Youtube but an outright abomination to do the same thing to Nancy Pelosi even a single time — at least in the minds of the people running YouTube.

Nick-B (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d wager that most of the "drunk trump" videos are labeled as such either in the title or description, or are shown in a known satire show (Jimmy Kimmel).

The problem with Nancy’s this video was the promotion of it with no mention of it being parody or satire, and promoted by a major news station that really ought to know better.

I’m in favor of leaving it up, but label it as it should be: perfectly legal satire for comedy purposes only. If you want to be on record as a US President that makes fun of opponents in this way (by, say, retweeting the video on your account) then by all means, do so. Just be aware that we will judge you for doing so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A better solution would be for YouTube to add user voting for things other than the current thumbs up/down rating, such as "mislabeled title" or "deceptive" or something like that. Such a feature could have been helpful way back in the Rickrolling era. Yes, such voting systems can easily be gamed, but I’d rather have users in control instead of YouTube/FB/Twitter having the power to determine what we are allowed or not allowed to see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Hamilton is the poster child for passive aggressive.

It’s been two whole years, Shiva Ayyadurai failed to convince a judge that he invented email, and I’m still waiting on Hamilton’s list of the "thousands" of "inventors" that were irreparably harmed by the fact that Techdirt exists.

ishould (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Facebook should also remove things that are demonstrably harmful. Facebook is a private company and can remove or promote anything they want to.
If you want Facebook to abide by the 1st amendment and allow all types of speech, advocate for making Facebook public. Personally, I advocate for this and would like them not to discriminate on anything, unless it is deemed to not be under the privy of the 1st amendment. I’m not sure if anything would be disallowed via this medium; it’s not like yelling Fire! in a crowded theater when there is no fire

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That…doesn’t really have anything to do with what I said, but sure.

I am aware that the First Amendment restricts the government, not private entities. It is, however, concerning when people who are part of the government advocate for private entities to suppress legal speech, especially in the context this article mentions (Pelosi’s recent misstatements about 230). I already mentioned upthread that there’s been agitation by members of both major parties to attempt to control what platforms like Facebook and Twitter do and don’t allow. Context matters.

And for god’s sake quit using that hackneyed "fire in a crowded theater" cliche.

ishould (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not a full-blown state-owns-industry kind of socialist. I just recognize that Facebook is by far the largest platform on the internet that has a abnormally large influence on the American people.
I can see various ways the Government should handle Facebook, the most obvious being to use anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws to break them up so they don’t have as much influence. If there were enough competitors, people would see these fake videos and are more likely to use a different social media platform, eventually creating a circle-jerk of people spreading around the fake videos

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I simply do not see the problem, what exactly would the government do for you and why? Anti-trust is not applicable as there is no monopoly. First amendment is not applicable as it is a private business.

If you are looking for a site that agrees with your pov then go find it but do not expect everyone else to bend to your desires just because.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

Facebook is but one type of SIN. That it does things other SINs do not, and is more widely used than other SINs, does not make it a monopoly. And if you still want to argue that it is a monopoly, ask yourself this: Can you use the Internet without Facebook? A monopoly that can be avoided altogether isn’t as powerful a monopoly as you might think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I do not consider your argument to be reasonable. The term monopoly is misunderstood by many, perhaps a review of the Sherman Antitrust Act is in order.

"The act is not meant to punish businesses that come to dominate their market passively or on their own merit, only those that intentionally dominate the market through misconduct, which generally consists of conspiratorial conduct of the kind forbidden by Section 1 of the Sherman Act, or Section 3 of the Clayton Act. "

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

"There is a reasonable argument for it being a monopoly"

Not if you understand words.

"they listed sites I had never heard of"

At some point in the non-so distant past, Facebook was also something you’d never heard of. That’s the weakest excuse for not exercising freedom of choice I’ve ever heard – you have to wait until other people make another site popular before you’ll try it?

No wonder Facebook are finding it so easy to avoid competitors, if people like you refuse to use them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"Just strip them of Section 230 immunity and let them decide what might cause liability."

Remove section 230 and the answer to that is EVERYTHING. There is not a single thing they can have on their site that they will not potentially be sued for, once you remove the barrier of them not being able to be sued for things they did not do.

This is why your stupid ideas are so dangerous – you just don’t understand how stupid they are because you don’t understand the basics of your own demands.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Facebook should also remove things that are demonstrably harmful. Facebook is a private company and can remove or promote anything they want to.

In which case I would like to bring your attention to this particular quote/question:

For those of you who think disinformation should be censored, please tell me where you stand on organized religion because if any disinformation has demonstrably harmed millions, it’s that. — jillian (@jilliancyork)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There are no requirements to use the term and it’s in quite common use to describe the division between Democrats and Republicans in US politics. I’m thinking maybe you are unaware of its origins so I will mention that it’s a reference to the aisle in the middle of the US Senate chamber.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stop Sign Test

I would blame the driver who ignored the stop sign. Stop signs have a shape that is unique among all road signs, when the paint gets covered by snow and ice and you can not read it … it is still a stop sign.

In addition, the driver who believed the altered stop sign was actually a go sign should have their license revoked and possibly seek professional help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well if Facebook wanted to "test" Section 230, letting the Pelosi video stand is a good way to do it.

One way you could preserve the First Amendment is to make a common carrier out of any platform that is a federal contractor, and eliminate their Section 230 protection, which would mean that if a company wanted its "free speech" it would have it unless it did business with the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not to name names, but there’s a certain attorney who goes around insulting "incels," yet one look at his wife (who is now fair game for comparison due to her husband analyzing others’ love lives) suggests the incels are better off.

Also it is not the incel men who go and shoot up workplaces of their ex-lovers, often killing innocents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

People with butt-ugly, doofus wives who call others incel are intellectually impotent.

For someone whose main thesis for repealing Section 230 is to protect women from being called hookers by anonymous commenters… you sure seem to enjoy insulting women in general. From an anonymous vantage point. Polite people would call that ironic or hypocritical. I prefer to call that "fucked in the head".

a man with Masnick’s money and status

What money and status? The whole point of Techdirt was to be a bastion for pirates, wasn’t it? That’s why Masnick has to support Open Source initiatives that would surely fall under the might and weight of patent-holding companies such as Intellectual Ventures!

…Oh wait, Masnick’s lack of wealth happens to be incidentally inconvenient to your current rant narrative. Carry on!

the low-value garbage he married is as pathetic as it gets

Personally, I don’t completely disagree with criticism of "incels". I think to mock men for their inability to woo a woman for whatever reason, to no backlash, is pretty scummy. Insulting women is generally not going to get anyone to agree with you, though, especially if the criteria is due to status.

But then again, you’ve already mentioned on multiple occasions that you enjoy the company of multiple beautiful women, so why do you feel so angered by the fact that other men choose to settle for women you consider beneath you?

What’s her name again? Let me look it up.

"OOooh, I hate Masnick! I hate that he marries under his station. I’m going to find out who his wife is and insult his daughters! …What’s that? No, I’m not obsessed with Masnick or Techdirt. Not at all!"

God, what a fucking asshole.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Personally, I don’t completely disagree with criticism of "incels". I think to mock men for their inability to woo a woman for whatever reason, to no backlash, is pretty scummy. Insulting women is generally not going to get anyone to agree with you, though, especially if the criteria is due to status.

Woman here. Holy crap, the wrong in the post you’re responding to! Incels are without partners because they have unrealistic expectations, i.e. they’re horrible people who want comic-book pretty women to submit to them.

I’m a short fat brunette married to a tall blond hunk. Butt-ugly? Hubby doesn’t think so. Doofus? Occasionally. Nobody marries low-value garbage and if Jhon is indeed an incel; that’s why. You can’t walk around describing people in those terms and expect to have a happy love life with "multiple beautiful women." Or any woman. If this one is sickened by his comments, what must the ones he fancies think of him?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

On another note, a man with Masnick’s money and status who had to settle for the low-value garbage he married is as pathetic as it gets.

Masnick’s money and status?

But that’s not what you said the last time.

She obviously isn’t much of a lady if she married someone like that.

So which is it? Is Masnick’s money and status great or insignificant?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"Also it is not the incel men who go and shoot up workplaces of their ex-lovers, often killing innocents."

You do know that incel ideology often involves fantasies of physical and armed violence, right? Including instances of several incels acting out on those tendencies, and/or encouraging others to do the same?

Besides, if you’re not an incel, given that you’ve claimed to have several girlfriends… doesn’t that put you at a greater risk of shooting up someone’s workplace?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Damn, John, you’ve been holding back!

At the very least it looks like you’ve finally reached the acceptance phase of dealing with grief from Shiva Ayyadurai asking a judge to prove he didn’t invent email.

Get some new material, man. Watching you insult Masnick’s offspring is hilarious after the negative first time, after that it just sounds like you’ve got a closet crush on the guy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, about that. It turns out when you go on a mad rant and call a site owner’s children poop smears, multiple times, and insinuate that their spouse is a working prostitute, your commentary might be more closely scrutinized for using – in your own terms – "fighting words".

Mind-blowing, I know.

horse with no name just hates it when due process is enforced.

Bruce C. says:

Note the verb tense.

Facebook might not be a willing enabler at this time and they certainly have more restrictions that will help protect against such propaganda in the future.

But they were certainly willing and able to take money from just about anybody during the 2016 campaign to run their ads. And their algorithms are still vulnerable to click bait.

2020 is probably going to be OK on the Facebook front. I’m more interested in how they (and other platforms) are going to behave in the 2024 campaign when nobody is paying attention anymore.

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