'Cheap fake' Biden videos burst into national spotlight

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White House officials are aggressively pushing back against a wave of “cheap fake” videos that purportedly show President Biden being confused or meandering, and which question his mental and physical fitness ahead of the election.

The rise of the videos, which do not use artificial intelligence (AI) but are cropped or edited in a way that is misleading, marks the latest instance of how technology may be used deceptively during the 2024 campaign. 

The use of “cheap fakes” burst into the national spotlight in recent days thanks to a trio of clips involving Biden that quickly went viral and painted him as confused or unaware of his surroundings. 

One viral clip, which was first shared by a Republican National Committee (RNC) account, depicts Biden struggling to sit down at a D-Day ceremony in a chair that critics claimed didn’t exist. But the clip cuts off before Biden takes his seat. 

Another clip came from Biden’s recent trip to Italy for the Group of Seven (G7) meeting, when he and other world leaders watched a skydiving demonstration. A cropped version of the video seemed to show Biden wandering off before the Italian prime minister nudges him back toward the group. 

But the fuller angle makes clear Biden was gesturing toward a parachutist who had just landed. The New York Post made the incident the centerpiece of its front page the next day, with the headline, “Meander in Chief.” 

Right-wing media also spread a clip from a Saturday fundraiser, alleging Biden froze up on stage and had to be led away by former President Obama. Aides for both Biden and Obama disputed that characterization. 

The video shows both Obama and Biden waving goodbye to the crowd at the end of the event. After a few moments, Obama grabs Biden by the hand and pats him on the back before they walk away. In response to a New York Post headline claiming Biden froze up and had to be led off stage by Obama, an Obama adviser responded, “This did not happen.”

Former President Trump highlighted the videos during a Tuesday campaign rally in Racine, Wis., and mocked the White House response.

“Crooked Joe and his handlers are insisting he’s sharper than ever, and they say the videos of crooked Joe shuffling around are ‘clean fakes,’” Trump said. “They say they’re deceptively edited. All of the mistakes that he’s made … he can’t go anywhere without a mistake.”

Although the “cheap fakes” are less convincing than sophisticated AI deepfakes, they still pose a danger — especially by eroding trust among voters, said Paul Barrett, deputy director and senior research scholar at the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.  

“What they do is they further erode the distinction between what’s true and what’s not true, and I think they provide fuel that feeds highly polarized partisan attitudes that are already in place,” Barrett said.  

While the videos may not sway many Democrats to change their vote, over time the altered videos can reinforce and provide “artificial fuel” to a false narrative about Biden, he said.  

“Advances in digital technology are having the side effects of blurring the line between truth and falsehood and amplifying cynicism on the part of a lot of people, over whether it’s even possible to tell whether things are true or fake,” Barrett said.  

Polling has consistently shown voters have concerns about Biden’s age and cognitive abilities as he seeks a second term. Biden is 81 and would be 86 at the end of a second term. Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, is 78 and would be 82 at the end of his potential second term. 

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted this month found 50 percent of voters said Trump has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president, compared to 35 percent who said the same about Biden. 

The videos, which are often shared by conservative accounts and Biden critics, feed into the narrative that he is a feeble man prone to states of confusion. 

White House officials have pushed back aggressively on the latest round of deceptive videos, blasting the New York Post for its role in spreading the clips. 

Deputy press secretary Andrew Bates has posted more than two dozen times on the social platform X since Monday about the videos, sharing fact checks and criticizing the Post and other outlets for spreading the videos without context. 

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the videos “bad faith” efforts by Republicans to discredit the president. 

“I think that it tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday. “And instead of talking about the president’s performance in office — and what I mean by that is his legislative wins, what he’s been able to do for the American people across the country — we’re seeing these … manipulated videos. And it is, again, done in bad faith.” 

The recent altered video clips don’t use newer, sophisticated technologies used in realistic AI-generated deepfakes.

However, the rise of AI-generated deepfakes, like the one that mimicked Biden’s voice and discouraged voters from casting a ballot in New Hampshire’s January primary, could be emboldening people to use altered video content as a strategy more regularly, said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the advocacy group Public Citizen.  

“Though this is not actually new, and it is just misinformation circulating widely, some of the ugliness and the frequency is exacerbated by the prevalence of deepfake technology,” Gilbert added.  

The White House’s pushback on the “cheap fake” videos come after months of Democrats warning about the dangers of AI-generated election content, but so far the government has not put new rules in place.  

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been considering a rule clarification to address AI in campaign content for nearly a year, and a Senate panel advanced three AI-related election bills in May, but no new guardrails have been set heading into Election Day.  

“I think the real danger of AI in this regard, is its potential use in the October surprise context, where at the last minute before an election, you get a very convincing looking false video that puts a politician in a false and demeaning light, and it’s difficult for even a short period of time, 12 hours or 24 hours or 36 hours, to debunk it,” Barrett said.  

“And that could actually change people’s minds from, ‘I’m going to vote’ or ‘I’m not going to vote,’” he added.  

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