Fact check: Widely viewed Twitter video misleads on Biden’s comments

Fact check: Widely viewed Twitter video misleads on Biden's comments

The clip did not alter what Biden said during those 19 seconds. But the video and its creator’s inflammatory caption — “Biden proclaims the ‘European’ identity of America: ‘Our culture is not imported from some African nation'” — left out essential context Biden had provided before and after the 19 seconds.

Later on Wednesday night, after we tweeted about the context, the saga of the video was being described as a cautionary tale about the ease with which disinformation can spread on social media. “In no way are we ready for the year ahead if it’s this easy,” Katie Rogers, a White House correspondent for the New York Times, said on Twitter.

Biden was asked at an event in Derry, New Hampshire, on Monday, December 30 to discuss his history in fighting domestic violence and sexual assault and his “vision” for dealing with those issues.

The former vice president spoke about how, in his view, the United States has a “cultural problem” with domestic abuse and sexual assault in part because the US has been influenced by the permissive common law established by judges in England hundreds of years ago.

Biden told a story about how, he claimed, the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb” was that an English court ruled “in the late 1300s” that a man could beat his wife as long as he used a rod smaller than the circumference of his thumb. (Biden’s claim is a folk myth; researchers have found no evidence that a “rule of thumb” on domestic violence emerged from English court decisions in the 1300s.)

“We have a cultural problem. A cultural problem,” Biden said upon ending the story.

Minutes later, Biden returned to his point about the legacy of old England. He 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.”

The video

The misleadingly edited video clip was shared by a Twitter user with the handle @mooncult, who has been critical of Biden, and supportive of rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The 19-second clip omitted Biden’s sentence at the beginning, in which he said “this is about changing the culture,” and Biden’s sentence at the end, in which he said he was talking about a culture that says “it” – sexual abuse – is all right.

The clip, which had been viewed more than 1.6 million times as of Thursday night, showed Biden saying only this: “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.” Devoid of context, it sounded like he was indeed proclaiming that America’s cultural identity is solely European.

The video was quickly shared by anti-Biden Twitter users on both the left and right — and by some journalists and commentators who later deleted the clip after the context was made clear.

Misinformation for political gain

Others continued to use the clip for political gain. Bob Salera, deputy communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, tweeted the clip on Thursday morning and said, baselessly, “So apparently Joe Biden is a white nationalist.”

The Twitter user, @mooncult, was unrepentant, tweeting that the video was “completely unaltered.” @mooncult acknowledged “it was a tightly cut clip” but noted that it was “not doctored.” @mooncult said, “i meant no ill intent. the point i wanted to highlight is the part i posted. i honestly didn’t think i was leaving out anything important.”

The Biden campaign declined to comment, but its allies expressed dismay. Steve Schale, executive director of pro-Biden Super PAC Unite the Country, said on Twitter: “Biden opponents sharing a ridiculously edited video clip is the most 2020 way to start 2020. Come on folks: use the google.”

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