House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sharply criticized Facebook for not taking down a doctored video of her, suggesting Wednesday that the company’s refusal indicates that it “wittingly” allowed similarly false information to circulate during the 2016 election.
“When something like Facebook says, ‘I know this is false, it’s a lie, but we’re showing it anyway’ … I was giving them the benefit of the doubt on Russia. I thought it was unwitting,” Pelosi said at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. “But clearly, they wittingly were accomplices and enablers of false information.”
Pelosi’s comments marked a significant worsening of tensions between Facebook and congressional Democrats amid the controversy over the video, which was slowed down and edited to make her appear to be slurring her words.
After fact-checkers proved the video had been altered, Facebook said it would take steps to decrease how often the video was shown in users’ newsfeeds and would accompany it with an info box to share an article that says the clip is fake.
But the company declined to take down the video, drawing protests from many Democrats, including some who have defended the tech industry in the past.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), for example, who represents part of Silicon Valley and is traditionally an ally of tech and social media companies, suggested Wednesday that the video was having an impact on voters. In a tweet, he cited someone he said he had talked with who saw the video, didn’t realize it had been doctored and had turned against Pelosi because of it.
“Facebook must remove the video,” he said.
The controversy comes as the social media company, which declined to comment, faces increasing scrutiny and calls for regulation from Congress stemming from a privacy scandal and the Russian interference in 2016.
The company faced intense criticism for serving as a platform for Russia’s disinformation campaign. While some lawmakers have suggested Facebook didn’t realize it was being used, others say the company had a responsibility to know.
Pelosi for the first time suggested that the latest video indicates Facebook has “wittingly” allowed false information to spread.
Earlier in the day, she told KQED that Facebook is “lying to the public.”
“I think it’s wrong,” she said.
Pelosi said she was not concerned about herself — “If I didn’t have thick skin, I wouldn’t be speaker of the House,” she said — but worried that female candidates would be turned off from running for office if they thought they’d be subjected to the same treatment.
“If you were going to go out there, why would you subject yourself to that? To that? And that’s what disappoints me,” she said.
Facebook officials said this week that the company wanted to allow people to post such videos as a form of expression. In a statement, the company suggested it was seeking a balance between encouraging free expression and promoting an authentic and safe community.
“We believe that reducing the distribution of inauthentic content strikes that balance,” the company said. “But just because something is allowed to be on Facebook doesn’t mean it should get distribution. In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed.”
By comparison, YouTube deleted all copies of the video. Twitter hasn’t taken action.