Deceptive video of Biden wasn’t a diplomatic gaffe, just more Twitter trash

I almost fell for the viral video that falsely shows President Joe Biden walk away from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak without addressing him. Too many of us are getting duped on social media.

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President Joe Biden is greeted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, (left), and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Jane Hartley, center, as he steps off Air Force One at Belfast International Airport on April 11. At right is United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III.

President Joe Biden is greeted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and US Ambassador to the United Kingdom Jane Hartley, center, after landing at Belfast International Airport, Tuesday, April 11, 2023. At right is United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III. Biden was visiting the United Kingdom and Ireland in part to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.


Joe Biden didn’t fall or say anything inappropriate when he landed in Northern Ireland last week.

But when footage surfaced of the president as he stepped off Air Force One Tuesday, portions of the video — including a misleading snippet — went viral, managing to draw some laughs while causing others around the world to cringe.

In the edited clip, Biden slightly nudges the awaiting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to the side and goes on to salute a representative of King Charles III and hug the American ambassador to the United Kingdom.

But Biden actually did chat with Sunak briefly and shook his hand before greeting the other dignitaries, the full recording shows.

Instead of bothering to examine the entirety of the video, many Twitter users, including a few journalists, ended up sharing the edited video and concluding that Biden failed to recognize Sunak on the tarmac at Belfast International Airport.

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Right-wing Americans were suddenly crying racism, outraged that the Democrat Biden had the audacity to snub a Brown man. Some on the left who also fell for the deceptive footage were equally perplexed.

There was also a contingent of Sunak critics who watched the video in its entirety and still poked fun at the conservative politician for failing to dazzle Biden with his enthusiasm.

“Painful to watch. Sunak jumps the queue to greet Biden. Biden treats Sunak like a third wheel,” tweeted Farrukh Younus, who runs a video blogging platform in the U.K.

Fair enough. Sunak appeared to look more thrilled than Biden. That’s the only plausible, if not subjective, take-away from glimpsing the video without the benefit of hearing what the two men said to each other. Nothing more.

Edging away from Twitter

I almost took the bait of the edited Biden-Sunak video myself, but came to my senses as I did more sleuthing and read several news organizations’ fact-checking pieces. Phew.

Nearly being suckered on Twitter, along with NPR and PBS’ recent departure from the site made me rethink once again my decision to stay. The two public media companies left the social media platform after Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk tacked on the “government-funded media” description to their accounts, which in essence likens them to media outlets controlled by authoritarian regimes overseas.

My arguments for remaining on Twitter have mostly centered on how I can quickly browse what other news organizations are reporting, as well as the social media company’s historic reputation as a virtual refuge for people of color and other marginalized groups.

“...Black Twitter operates as a kind of Green Book of the twenty-first century,” authors at the University of Colorado Boulder wrote in the introduction to their 2021 study.

“It provides a mechanism for users to share and find information, whether about staying safe or calls to action against anti-Black racism.”

Hate speech and blue checks

With Musk at the helm, that safe space has quickly spurred toward combustion as hate speech and misinformation on Twitter grows. Even the most discerning Twitter users are being thrown off by a blue check mark, which previously distinguished a notable person’s identity from an imposter or troll.

Now those check marks can be purchased for $8 a month, making it easier for false news and videos like the edited Biden-Sunak clip to reach a larger audience.

Musk previously vowed to strip all the “legacy” check marks off the handles of political leaders, journalists, celebrities, athletes and other public figures. That didn’t exactly happen.

While the company scrubbed the badges off some accounts, including The New York Times and singer Doja Cat’s, most haven’t had their check mark privilege revoked. Mine still lingers and most journalists I know are in the same boat. We along with other people who had verified accounts before Musk came on the scene are practically begging for him to take them away lest we be confused for someone who’d actually shell out money for the service.

We may get our wish by Thursday — the latest deadline Musk issued for the removal of the “legacy” check marks.

Once Musk finally carries out his threats, maybe then it’ll be easier to stop liking and retweeting with abandon. Or maybe many more of us will eventually take flight and just push Twitter completely out of the way.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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