It took some pretty serious editing jujitsu to make Mike Bloomberg’s widely panned performance at the Democratic debate into a video spot that helps the campaign.
With tongue not very firmly in cheek, Bloomberg’s digital staff cut together selected pieces of the debate to portray Bloomberg posing a question so profound and revealing as to leave the other candidates speechless. Bloomberg’s question? “I’m the only one here that I think that’s ever started a business. Is that fair?”
He did ask that during the debate, but the response he got wasn’t quite this:
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 20, 2020
Anybody who actually watched the debate knows that Bloomberg was targeted from the very start—attacked skillfully and savagely by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and others—and had a hard time defending himself.
When I first watched the video, I didn’t notice the crickets in the background, but they do establish a comic context. It seems unlikely the makers of the video were trying to fool people into thinking that it accurately conveyed what transpired in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.
People who didn’t watch the debate will see Bloomberg’s video on Facebook and Twitter. Some of them may live in filter bubbles. People who see Bloomberg as the rich Democratic savior who can beat Trump, and who don’t watch carefully, might be inclined to take the video at face value. Misinformation that isn’t meant as misinformation is still misinformation.
The video that tampered with Nancy Pelosi’s speech to make her sound drunk was widely considered to be a cheap form of disinformation. The makers simply slowed down the audio in that. Bloomberg’s people chopped up and carefully reordered the footage of the debate. Are these approaches really so different, when they both present a misleading, politically charged message?
Donald Trump retweeted the fake Pelosi video just two weeks ago.
Facebook has already punted on fact-checking ads by politicians. It will certainly have no problem posting Bloomberg ads featuring the new debate-remix video.
But Twitter, which took itself out of the political advertising business late last year, may be less tolerant of the video. HuffPost‘s Jesselyn Cook adroitly contacted Twitter to find out if its new misinformation policy, which goes into effect next month, would allow Bloomberg’s video to appear on the site without a disclaimer. Probably not, a Twitter spokesperson said. It would “likely” be classified as manipulated video and labeled as such, the person said.
The Bloomberg video might not seem like much, but it may open up a new front in the debate over political misinformation on social media. What’s the responsible way to present media that counts as political satire or parody, but also sends a misleading message?