Doctored videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that make her appear as if she is slurring or intoxicated and went viral toward the end of last week—one was shared by President Donald Trump on Thursday—will not be removed from Facebook despite the fact that they have been determined to be fake. On Friday, a company executive offered a half-assed defense for this decision even as Facebook works to mitigate its widespread misinformation problem.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper on Friday, the company’s Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert defended its decision not to remove the video—it instead demoted the video’s reach on the platform and displayed information from a third-party fact-checker alongside it in News Feed as well as when it’s shared—as a matter of giving its users a “choice.”
“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe,” Bickert said. “Our job is to make sure that we are getting them accurate information. And that’s why we work with over 50 fact-checking organizations around the world.”
Bickert went on to say that if misinformation had the potential to incite violence, that content would be removed from Facebook. But fake or misleading information does not expressly violate Facebook’s rules, and a spokesperson for the company told the Washington Post in a statement earlier Friday that it does not “have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.” Instead, per its latest policy initiatives around combating fake news, it simply downgrades the content’s reach and displays information from its fact-checking partners.
“This is part of the way we deal with misinformation,” Bickert told Cooper. “We work with internationally certified fact-checking organizations that are independent from Facebook, and we think these are the right organizations to be making decisions about whether something is true or false.”
During the interview, Cooper made an important point by noting that Facebook—whether or not the company chooses to acknowledge it publicly—is a source of news information for a vast percentage of its 2 billion users. Bickert’s response to this, however, was that Facebook “is not in the news business, we’re in the social media business.” To this, Cooper responded that the platform shares news because it makes the platform money—which, correct.
While Facebook delivered a muddy justification for allowing the blatant spread of fake news on its platform, a YouTube spokesperson, meanwhile, told the Post that the doctored video has since been pulled it from its site because it violated YouTube’s rules. Twitter, on which Trump shared one of the videos and on whose account it remains live, has declined to comment on the incident.
Responding to the videos on Twitter on Wednesday, Pelosi’s daughter, Christine Pelosi, tweeted that Republicans “have been pumping this despicable fake meme for years,” adding, “Madam Speaker doesn’t even drink alcohol!” Pelosi’s camp told the Post last week that they would not be commenting “on this sexist trash.”