Process Post #7

The main photograph in question: Is Rudy Giuliani simply tucking in his shirt or did he have other ideas?

This week’s discussion of social media and digital literacy really couldn’t have come at a better time. One week from today will be the 59th United States Presidential Election, where the incumbent president Donald Trump will look to earn a second term against Joe Biden. As this chaotic presidential race reaches its conclusion, the memes, tweets, and news stories are practically writing themselves. With that in mind, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves about the content we see what’s truthful and what’s fake.

We all know by now that Donald Trump loves to denounce the “fake news.” In his recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump accused reporter and interviewer Lesley Stahl of subscribing to the fake news agenda before storming out of the interview early. To many viewers, it was an embarrassing display of character by the president, who complained of being unfairly asked tough questions… as the President of the United States.

But this isn’t about my political views. What’s important is that Trump and his supporters genuinely do believe in such a thing as the “fake news,” and it becomes an excuse upon which any negative story of claim can be chalked up to. Since the interview on 60 Minutes aired, interviewer Lesley Stahl has even received death threats from hardcore Republicans. So really, there’s no perceivable limit as to how far they’ll go.

That brings me to this week’s reading by Franklin Foer, titled “The Era of Fake Video Begins.” As Foer discusses throughout the article, there are genuine concerns to be had with fake videos and manipulation of media online. On a more NSFW level, he talks about the issue of “deepfakes” where the faces of celebrities are realistically plastered onto other people’s bodies in pornographic videos.

Foer mentions that “unedited video has acquired an outsize authority in our culture,” based on the public’s hunger for reality. Specifically, he points to scandalous behaviours “caught on tape,” much like we saw this week with Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in the new Borat film. In case you’ve been absent from the Internet this week or don’t watch the news, the gist of the scandal is that Giuliani was caught inappropriately stretching out on a hotel bed and sticking his hand down his pants in front of actress Maria Bakalova. For more information on the scandal and a frame-by-frame breakdown of the incident, you can check out Slate‘s article here.

Now, Giuliani claims that the entire video is a “complete fabrication” and that he was simply tucking his shirt in after removing his microphone. In one tweet, he cites the New York Post, which argued that the incident seemed to be exaggerated through editing.

This relates to an important part of the Foer reading, where he argues that the problem in today’s digital era “isn’t just the proliferation of falsehoods.” Rather, the problem is that fabricated videos lead us to question the accuracy of everything we watch, and provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card of sorts to those caught up in a video scandal.

Can we be certain that the video of Giuliani in the Borat film wasn’t doctored? The truth is, it’s entirely possible. As Matthew Dessem argues in Slate, “There’s nothing in the film that proves Giuliani’s intentions, and there are enough places where the audio and editing could have been manipulated to make the encounter seem creepier than it actually was.”

It’s likely that this eventually dies down as a mystery, and probably sooner than later with bigger issues on the docket with next week’s election. But it raises the question of when we can let people off the hook for their actions simply because the video might have been edited. Or on the other hand, at what point do we decide that a video is truthful enough to warrant disciplinary action?

I certainly don’t have those answers and I’m not sure any one person does, but it’s certainly food for thought as we continue to think about digital literacy going forward.

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