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The tighter a video is clipped, the less inclined you should be to share it.
See a 5-second clip that makes you really angry? Take a deep breath and do 90 seconds of research before sharing.
Out-of-context videos: we’ve all seen them, most of us have fallen for them, and many of us have (wittingly or not) shared them. They’re not new, but they do seem to have become a bit more prevalent in the age of social media. Even worse: the way these clips target our emotional responses our biases make them even more likely to spread.
On August 31, 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden delivered a speech in Pittsburgh on the topic of public safety and law enforcement. It was a fairly standard campaign speech. Biden condemned riots, denounced looting, and forcefully pushed back on the idea that the reality of President Donald Trump’s America was a glimpse at what a hypothetical “Biden’s America” would look like. From that speech:
Trump and Pence are running on this, and I find it fascinating. Quote: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” And what’s their proof? The violence we’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America! These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden America in the future. These are images of Donald Trump’s America today. He keeps telling you if only he was president, it wouldn’t happen. If he was president. He keeps telling us that he was president you’d feel safe. Well he is president. Whether he knows it or not, and it is happening, it’s getting worse. And you know why? Because Donald Trump adds fuel to every fire because he refuses to even acknowledge that there’s a racial justice problem in America because he won’t stand up to any form of violence.
Within minutes, “Trump War Room,” the Trump campaign’s official Twitter account (which remains active despite the former president’s Twitter ban), tweeted out a 3-second clip of Biden saying “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Biden was referencing a line from Vice President Mike Pence’s Republican National Convention speech a few nights earlier. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” had become one of the big selling points for the Trump campaign.
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Twitter eventually flagged the piece as violating its “manipulated media” rule, but not before it was able to rack up thousands of likes and retweets. Nearly an hour later, the Trump campaign mocked the “triggered journalists who can’t take a joke,” and added that “it’s not our fault if Joe Biden was dumb enough to say this on camera.”1
A few months earlier, a relatively small Twitter account shared a 17-second clip where Biden said, "The culture, our culture, our culture is not imported from some African nation or some Asian nation, it is our English jurisprudential culture — our European culture.”
From that clip, which received more than 1.4 million views, one might have concluded that Biden was making an odd argument about European culture eerily similar to something white nationalists might say. In context, he was referring to changing a culture rooted in English jurisprudential policy that doesn’t treat domestic violence as a serious issue. From PolitiFact’s fact-check of the clip:
About 11 minutes into his answer, Biden then said:
"Folks this is about changing the culture, our culture, our culture. It’s not imported from some African nation or some Asian nation. It’s our English jurisprudential culture, our European culture that says it’s alright."
Listened to in context, it appears that Biden was saying that the roots of violence against women are rooted in European culture and that the United States must change the culture of violence against women.
The edited video on Twitter omits Biden saying "this is about changing…" and just cuts right to
"The culture, our culture, our culture is not imported from some African nation or some Asian nation, it is our English jurisprudential culture — our European culture."
See also: the 19-second clip from a Rep. Ilhan Omar speech about anti-Muslim sentiment and the erosion of Muslim civil rights following 9/11 clipped to make it sound as though she was downplaying the infamous terrorist attacks, an 18-second clip of a comment Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand made about offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already paying into programs like Social Security made to seem like she wants to just take money out of Social Security to pay to undocumented immigrants, or a clip of former Attorney General Eric Holder riffing on Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” quote to make it seem as though he was arguing to literally kick Republicans.2
More recently, a right-wing Twitter account (the account’s bio brags about being followed by prominent conservative Twitter users such as Megyn Kelly, Miranda Devine, and Christina Pushaw) tweeted a 5-second clip of Biden saying “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level.”
The clip, which has racked up more than 3.1 million views, was Biden speaking in response to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking Biden to “make sure that we don’t let federal solutions stand in the way of state solutions.” In other words, Biden’s comment, which went well beyond “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level,” was about giving the states what they need to fight the virus, not about giving up on a federal policy.3
Yet another example is Ron Filipkowski’s tweet clipping a speech from Fox News host Jesse Watters at Turning Point USA’s recent AmericaFest event to make it sound like Watters was threatening violence against Dr. Anthony Fauci. In reality and in context, the clip was Watters giving the audience advice on conducting the slimy “ambush interviews” he’s known for.
I have a simple guide for these types of clips: The tighter something is clipped, the less you should be inclined to share it.
Whenever I clip a video, especially one that has the potential to make the speaker come off as outrageous in one way or another, I make a point of including more context than is necessary. That usually means including a sentence or two at both ends of the clip and then labeling the tweet with the exact context in which the comment was made.
For all the concern about the potential deepfakes have in misinforming the public, it’s cheapfakes that are currently driving the spread of misleading propaganda.
After the Biden clip of him saying “there is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level” went viral, I tweeted: A simple guide: The tighter something is clipped, the less you should be inclined to share it.
Misinformation researcher Mike Caulfield saw this and suggested calling it “Parker’s Law” — or “Molloy’s Law,” putting it in line with “Betteridge’s Law of Headlines” (“Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”) or “Godwin’s Law” (“As a discussion on the Internet grows longer, the likelihood of a person/s being compared to Hitler or another Nazi, increases.”).
Whatever you want to call it, I believe it to be sound advice. Additionally, Caulfield’s follow-up tweets include even more equally important considerations.
And just last night, another example popped up.
A couple of weeks later, I wrote a piece for Media Matters about the Trump campaign’s reliance on tightly-edited and dishonest clips, arguing that until the actual consequences of publishing misinformation outweighed the benefits of posting that misinformation in the first place, the campaign would have no incentive to tell the truth.
Another example of this is a 12-second clip from 2019 of Trump saying, “You can shoot me, but you’ll have to kill us all.” (The context was that Trump was telling the story of a U.S. soldier named Roddie Edmonds who protected Jewish members of his regiment against Nazi persecution when asked to identify who they were. Trump was quoting Edmonds saying, “Major, you can shoot me, but you’ll have to kill us all.”
MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted frustration about the clip being so widely shared, and was flooded with responses from people arguing that while “sure, that may not be what Biden said, BUT…” In other words, they responded to concern about misinformation being spread by arguing that it’s actually fine to share the out-of-context clip because they have legitimate issues with the federal government’s COVID response (so do I! so do many people!).