Conservative pundits on Tuesday used low-quality videos on social media platforms to spread the false claim that President Joe Biden fell asleep during a memorial service for victims of the Maui wildfires.
Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was among those who shared low-resolution videos on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter. Hannity’s post garnered more than 425,000 views in a matter of hours, and similar videos posted by others received thousands more views on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
Higher resolution Video from bipartisan network C-SPAN shows Biden looking down for about 10 seconds while seated at a table. In the video, Biden watches someone speak, cough, look down, and then nod in agreement with the speaker. Then he looks up again. He later gave a speech to the same audience.
The higher definition video shows Biden keeping his eyes open and looking down most of the time. His open eyes are not clearly visible in the lower quality videos.
At least one member of Congress, Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, also shared the lower-resolution version on X.
A spokesman for Nehls said in a statement, “Anyone with eyes can make their own conclusion as to whether President Biden nodded off in the video.”
When asked for comment about the Maui videos, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in an email, “It’s unfortunate that you feel the need to lie.” Instead, you should join him and the Supporting people on Maui.”
The posts on the country’s biggest social media platforms, largely unchecked, are the latest test of how Silicon Valley will handle misinformation in the 2024 election cycle — and whether it will enforce its own policies.
Low-quality videos are an example of what some misinformation researchers call “cheap fakes“: Media capable of misleading people through simple techniques, even in the face of growing concerns about more advanced methods of creating misleading content through generative artificial intelligence. Another well-known example involves then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, in a video where someone slowed down to make it sound like she was slurring her words.
The misleading content of the social media posts matches one of the “Sleepy Joe” nicknames used for Biden by former President Donald Trump.
Republicans looking to defeat Biden in next year’s presidential election have often focused on signs of his age, a concern common even among Democrats. Biden, 80, has responded by increasingly making jokes about his age, while his advisers appear to be taking steps to minimize the physical stress of the job, including using fewer stairs.
Trump, 77, has a comfortable lead over other Republicans for his party’s presidential nomination in state and state polls, despite continued opposition within the party.
The posts about Biden’s visit to Maui are the latest attempt by right-wing media to circumvent the rules of social media platforms, most notably tech billionaire Elon Musk’s X-App. Last month, conservative pundits peddled conspiracy theories with no evidence about the drowning death of the Obama family’s personal chef.
Although Musk has changed many of X’s rules since his purchase last year, there is still a written policy on X’s website against the dissemination of misleading media.
X did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on the Hannity video. Fox News, where Hannity has a show, didn’t immediately respond to an email request either. Hannity also didn’t immediately respond to a reply to his X post.
Several videos on YouTube used the lower-resolution video to claim Biden fell asleep. One by expert Tim Pool had 116,000 views; another from The Hill newspaper had 118,000 views; and a third, by a self-proclaimed motorcycle enthusiast, had 3,100 views.
YouTube prohibits misleading content if it has been “engineered or manipulated in a way that misleads users (beyond clips taken out of context) and may pose a serious risk of tremendous harm.” It also has a policy of preventing the distribution of ” “borderline” videos that are close to crossing the line but don’t.
YouTube did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. Pool and The Hill didn’t respond immediately either.
A post on Instagram by the Students4trump account had 28,584 likes after about five hours on Tuesday, according to the platform’s publicly available balance sheet. The post linked the claim that Biden had fallen asleep to the lower quality video in an endless loop.
Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, There is a written removal policy “certain highly deceptive, manipulated media,” but it says there is no way to formulate a comprehensive list of what is prohibited and relies on outside expert advice.
Meta did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
A search on TikTok found numerous videos claiming that Biden had fallen asleep, again using low-resolution videos. One of the posts, a video by account user4794022699383, received more than 67,000 views.
TikTok’s Written Policies disallow misleading content this can cause “societal damage,” though it doesn’t define the term. TikTok says it relies on external fact-checkers like PolitiFact and Reuters.
TikTok said it did not provide any immediate comment on the videos.