Republican leader shares faked video of disabled activist on Twitter

A Sunday tweet from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) showing a video of activist Ady Barkan got a “manipulated media” label from Twitter. Barkan has ALS and speaks through voice assistance. In the video, a conversation between Barkan and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Barkan asks “But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” The version Scalise tweeted edits in the words “for police,” to the end of the question, words which Barkan says in a different context earlier in the video.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Verge that the tweet was labeled “based on our Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy.”

The video was first noticed by Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel.

In the original video, Barkan asks Biden about what he thinks could be done about police violence. “We can reduce the responsibilities assigned to the police and redirect some of the funding for police into mental health counseling, and affordable housing,” he says. Later in the clip, he asks “do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” to which Biden responds, “yes.” The edited version of the clip in Scalise’s tweet, adding the words “for police,” at the end of that question, makes it appear that Barkan is asking Biden to defund police completely, a position Biden has said he does not support.

Scalise spokesperson Lauren Fine said in an email to The Verge on Sunday that it was clear in the video that Barkan was asking if Biden was open to redirecting funding away from police.

“Obviously, for a one-minute Twitter video featuring several short clips, we condensed that to the essence of what he was asking, as is common practice for clips run on TV and social media, no matter the speaker; we paired the police portion with Barkan’s final question for clarity because we couldn’t include an entire 3-mintue clip in a one minute montage,” Fine said. “We believe Biden’s position and answer is clear regardless: when asked twice, he says “yes” he is open to redirecting funding away from the police, and that is clear in our video.”

A Twitter spokesperson did not elaborate on what specifically in Scalise’s tweet warranted the “manipulated” tag. But if the video was doctored, it violates the social media platform’s policy, which states it’s “most likely to take action … on more significant forms of alteration, such as wholly synthetic audio or video or content that has been doctored (spliced and reordered, slowed down) to change its meaning.”

Social media platforms have tried, with varying degrees of success, to moderate falsified content including “deepfake” videos. Twitter’s policy, for instance, won’t apply to media that has been “edited in ways that do not fundamentally alter their meaning,” such as color-corrected video or retouched photos.

Scalise’s tweet appeared to have limited engagement as of Sunday afternoon, with no retweets showing in the counter at the bottom of the tweet. In response to an inquiry from The Verge, a Twitter spokesperson pointed to its manipulated media policy, which states that among other actions, Twitter may reduce a tweet’s visibility, which prevents it from being recommended.

Twitter has previously labeled several of President Trump’s tweets with the “manipulated media” tag, including a June tweet that edited video of two children playing to appear that one was chasing the other, and to mimic CNN’s chryon format to make it look like the clip ran on the cable network (it did not).

The video in Scalise’s tweet had more than 835,000 views as of Sunday afternoon.

UPDATE August 30th 2:45PM ET Added comment from Scalise spokesperson

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