A digitally altered video purporting to show former Vice President Joe Biden appearing at a dinner with a man in blackface has been circulating on social media for months, getting hundreds of thousands of combined shares and views. The spread of the video is similar to that of a digitally altered video targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The original video, from C-SPAN, shows Biden introducing a singer named Jerome Powell, who is Black, at a fundraising dinner for the Democratic Party in 1985 (Biden attempts to make a joke by calling him “Michael Jackson”).
Yet a review by Media Matters found that for months, a version of the video has spread on social media that has manipulated Powell’s face to seem darker to imply he is actually white and wearing blackface (Twitter on July 17 added a “manipulated media” label on the video).
The earliest share of the manipulated clip found on social media in Media Matters’ review was on January 7 on Twitter by @michaelbeatty3, a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who tweeted the video and wrote, “WHAT IS THIS?????”
Nearly a month later, on February 3, “Q,” the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory, posted a link to the @michaelbeatty3 tweet, writing, “Open your eyes to see the TRUTH. Who are the REAL racists?” The @michaelbeatty3 tweet has received more than 230,000 views and thousands of retweets (including being shared by another QAnon account with a major following).
After @michaelbeatty3 posted his tweet, the manipulated clip was posted on a pro-Trump page on Facebook, with the title “BLACKFACE: Joe Biden introduces ‘Michael Jackson’ at the 1985 Democrat congressional dinner.” That version got about 4,000 views. The clip then moved to YouTube, where one version was titled “JOE BIDEN STRIKES AGAIN WITH BLACKFACE BUDDIES,” and some of the videos there were also shared elsewhere online. The manipulated clip continued to circulate in February and March, getting thousands more combined views on Facebook and YouTube (one video specifically cited @michaelbeatty3). In March, a Virginia Democratic state representative appeared to post the manipulated clip in a since-deleted tweet. He later apologized for sharing it.
In mid-July, comedian Jimmy Dore -- in a since-deleted YouTube video titled “Young Black Voters Don't Want Joe Biden!” -- aired the manipulated clip, calling the event “a blackface affair for a bunch of rich white people,” according to The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel. The video received thousands of Facebook engagements, according to the social media tracking tool BuzzSumo. Around that same time, some Twitter accounts were again uploading the video on Twitter, including an account that falsely accused Biden of being in a “‘Black Face’ skit.” That version of the clip has more than 85,000 views, and the account cited Dore’s video for the clip.
The spread of the digitally altered clip and false claim comes a year after a clip of Pelosi that was digitally altered to make her seem drunk spread across multiple platforms. YouTube subsequently banned it, while Facebook refused to do so. The blackface video is just one of the multiple altered clips about Biden that have already circulated on social media this election cycle.