U.S. President Donald Trump promoted a doctored video that falsely appeared to show Joe Biden staring blankly for 12 seconds after formally being endorsed as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president on Aug. 18, 2020. In reality, the footage was slowed down and showed a moment that actually only lasted a few seconds, where Biden took a beat to absorb the applause of supporters.
The video was originally posted by Raheem Kassam, a former activist in the far-right U.K. Independence Party who, along with Trump's former senior adviser Steve Bannon, now co-hosts a podcast called "War Room."
In his tweet, Kassam wrote of Biden, "Does he even know what is happening?" Trump then retweeted the video, accompanied by Kassam's caption, to 85 million Twitter followers:
Trump's reelection campaign has publicly questioned Biden's mental acuity — the president is 74 while Biden is 77 — and the president habitually refers to his Democratic opponent with the epithet, "Sleepy Joe Biden." Kassam's video and caption constituted a claim that Biden did not understand what was going on around him while he received his party's nomination. Trump's promotion of the tweet appeared to be another effort to advance his campaign's broader allegation that Biden is not fit to assume the office of president.
We asked the president's reelection campaign whether Trump was aware that the video contained in Kassam's tweet was doctored, but we did not receive a response in time for publication. Trump's retweet remained online more than 12 hours after it first appeared.
What Kassam — and Trump — presented as 12 seconds of Biden staring blankly into space actually only lasted a few moments. Before being slowed down, the clip was taken from CNN's coverage of the second night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), on Aug. 18, 2020.
Footage from the DNC's live stream shows the moment when Delaware's convention delegates awarded all 32 of their votes for Biden, thus completing the party's formal nomination of Biden as its presidential candidate for 2020. As party activists and supporters appearing on camera from around the country applaud and cheer, Biden takes a beat to absorb their acclamation. The real moment shown in Kassam's video lasted around three seconds — not 12.
Twitter has rules against videos or images that it deems to have been "significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated," and its guidelines state that the company may take action against such content, including: adding a label to tweets, warning users before they retweet or like violating tweets, and reducing the visibility of content that has been "deceptively altered."
The president has in the past fallen foul of those rules. In March 2020, Trump retweeted a video clip posted by his aide, Dan Scavino, which falsely presented Biden as endorsing Trump's reelection. Scavino's tweet, and Trump's promotion of it, were both given the label "manipulated media" by Twitter.
At the time this article was published, the doctored and misleading video of Biden at the DNC had been on Twitter for more than 12 hours, and did not yet carry any labels or warnings. We asked Twitter whether Kassam's tweet, and Trump's promotion of it, ran counter to the company's guidelines on deceptively altered media, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
For his part, Kassam has openly admitted that the video was edited, writing on Twitter that it was "slowed down so you can see his reaction." Biden's reaction to his party's nomination was readily visible in the original video footage, and gave no indication whatsoever of any confusion on his part. Kassam's admission that the footage was edited was not necessarily visible to those who saw his original tweet, and not visible at all to those who only saw the video retweeted by Trump.
Doctored and misleadingly edited video footage has become an increasingly prominent tool of political disinformation in recent years. In May 2019, right-leaning critics of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, shared and promoted a video of Pelosi that was slowed down in order to give viewers the false impression that Pelosi was drunk. Snopes debunked a similar attack on Pelosi in August 2020.
Asked for a response to Trump's promotion of Kassam's tweet, Rosemary Boeglin, spokesperson for the Biden campaign, told Snopes:
"These doctored attacks on [former] Vice President Biden are just like Trump: failed, disingenuous, pathetic and off-topic. Democrats spent the night talking about real solutions to tackle the crises facing us as a nation, while Donald Trump sits on Twitter vainly trying to divert attention away from his reckless mismanagement of our nation’s economy and public health."