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As the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, candidates are facing an unprecedented challenge: the growing scale and variety of disinformation online. John Yang reports on the difficulty of verifying that content is authentic and not manipulated -- especially when it has been shared by a public figure.
As the 2020 campaign heats up, candidates are facing an historic challenge, an unprecedented scale and variety of disinformation online.
John Yang has that story.
The latest example? This selectively edited 19-second viral video of former Vice President Joe Biden.
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.
An anonymous Twitter user posted the video, saying: "Biden proclaims European identity of America. Our culture is not imported from some African nation."
Could you speak to your work with women in sexual assault, domestic violence?
But missing from the edited video? The context of Biden's full remarks. In his more than 10-minute answer, Biden called domestic violence a cultural problem from English common law of the 1300s that allowed men to abuse their wives.
Then, Biden 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 all right.
Right now, we're in no way prepared for what's to come.
The ease of creating this kind of misinformation is the scariest part, says Joan Donovan of the Harvard Kennedy School.
It's difficult to see why a video like this might be a problem, because it is not using any fancy editing technology.
The issue is, is that we have no mechanism for retraction, nor correction on these platforms. So, anybody who saw that video before there were any articles written by journalists debunking it may still believe it's true.
Biden later responded at a campaign event in Iowa, partly blaming President Trump.
Because that's how this guy operates.
While the president didn't share that video of Biden, he's shared similar edited videos including this one of Biden:
When someone who is a newsworthy individual, be it the president or someone from his Cabinet, as well as other political candidates, shares different pieces of media, and some of these are decontextualized videos or other kinds of rumors and scandals, we have to be especially careful, as both experts and journalists, not to take the bait.
Another example of misinformation? A doctored photo that accused the campaign of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren of replacing a Black Lives Matter sign with one reading "African Americans With Warren."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.:
We need comprehensive immigration reform.
And in March, the Republican National Committee posted a video of New York Senator and then-presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand touting comprehensive immigration reform, with the misleading headline "Senator Gillibrand: Expand Social Security to all illegal immigrants."
Misinformation comes from both sides. This clip of President Trump telling a story about a World War II soldier on Veterans Day was taken out of context.
President Donald Trump:
Roddie responded, "Major, you can shoot me, but you will have to kill us all." That's something.
A journalist at the media outlet Vox clipped that sound bite to:
You can shoot me, but you will have to kill us all.
Harvard's Joan Donovan.
Unfortunately, right now, the onus falls on audiences to be careful sharers. Is there another way in which I can look into and verify this piece of information?
And, in most cases, waiting is the — is one of the best ways to deal with this.
Valuable advice for 2020.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
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