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Trump Supporters Are Hyping a Doctored Video of Nancy Pelosi Appearing Drunk

Experts warn that this is just the beginning of "deepfake" political propaganda.

by David Gilbert
May 24 2019, 1:07pm

Donald Trump and the White House are amplifying fake and altered videos that depict House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as unstable and mentally ill.

A fake video appearing to show Pelosi drunkenly slurring her words is being shared widely by pro-Trump social media accounts, including by Trump’s own lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The altered video shows footage of Pelosi’s speaking at a Center for American Progress event this week. In her remarks, she accused Donald Trump of a “cover-up,” and the footage has been slowed down by 75 percent to make it appear that the Speaker was intoxicated.

The video has been shared widely on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. One version, posted on the conservative Politics WatchDog’s Facebook page, has been viewed over 2.4 million times.

YouTube says it has removed the video, but it is still being shared on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook told the Washington Post Thursday the video was going to be reviewed by third-party fact-checkers.

The origin of the video is unknown, but on Thursday night, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted a version with the caption, “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.” He then deleted the tweet.

The altered video appears to be part of a broader push from both inside and outside the White House to sow doubt about the House Speaker’s mental health as she weighs the possibility of impeaching the president.

As the war of words between the President and Pelosi escalated Thursday, Trump pinned an edited video of Pelosi appearing to stammer through a press conference to the top of his Twitter account.

The video is an edited montage of clips from a 20-minute press conference Pelosi held Thursday and ran on Fox News. It's not the same as the fake clip spreading through the president's camp.

The 30-second video — which has been viewed over $2.5 million times on Trump's Twitter alone — is designed to show Pelosi stuttering and stumbling over her words. Pelosi’s press secretary described the clip as “doctored.”

Trump, who had long refrained from making personal attacks on Pelosi, changed course on Thursday. Pelosi accused accused Trump of having a temper tantrum during an Oval Office meeting with her and other congressional Democrats.

She also questioned Trump’s ability to remain in office. “I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country,” Pelosi said during her weekly press conference.

In response, the President of the United States referred to the Speaker of the House as “Crazy Nancy.”

This is not the first time the White House has used doctored videos to undermine its perceived enemies. In 2018, it used a sped up video of CNN journalist Jim Acosta to justify its decision to revoke his press pass. Experts are concerned that even such simple manipulations are convincing enough to trick viewers.

“If dumb fakes like this can whip the President, the White House, and his supporters into a frenzy, just imagine what a deepfake can do,” Hany Farid, an expert in digital forensics at the University of California, Berkeley, told VICE News. “The threat of manipulated video of any form remains significant because of the declining level of discourse, particularly on social media, the public’s seemingly inability or lack of interest in distinguishing between real and fake news, and our willingness — in fact eagerness — to believe the worst in people that we disagree with.”

Deepfakes are more sophisticated computer-altered videos that utilize artificial intelligence, and could become a mainstay of the 2020 presidential race.

“It's going to get worse, too, because deepfake videos, in which leaders can be made to convincingly appear to say anything you want, are likely to be entering the political fray next year,” Brian Klaas, a professor of global politics at University College London, told VICE News. “It's an extraordinarily dangerous new frontier for democracy, made more dangerous by the man in the White House with disturbing authoritarian impulses and a disdain for facts and the truth.”

Correction 5/24 11:35 a.m. ET: An earlier headline on this story stated that President Donald Trump had shared a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi. The story has been updated to reflect that Trump shared an edited, but real, video that ran on Fox News.

Cover: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)