Fact Check: Was Joe Biden Deepfake Used In Video Attacking Donald Trump?

As President Joe Biden's plummeting approval ratings lessen the likelihood of a second term, even some of his supporters are questioning his ability to lead.

The president's age is one area of concern—he turns 80 in November—and his opponents are on the lookout for signs of cognitive decline.

A recent positive COVID-19 result, followed by a "rebound" infection just days later, caught attention, though the symptoms appear to be mild enough for Biden to continue working.

However, some of Biden's critics spread rumors that a recent video address, in which the president spoke directly to January 6 rioters and Donald Trump, was faked or manipulated to cover up the true state of his health.

Joe Biden White House
U.S. President Joe Biden coughs as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. Social media posts of the president, posted after he made a speech decrying Donald Trump's actions on January 6, were shared as evidence to the claim that footage of Biden had been "deepfaked." Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Claim

A number of tweets posted in July 2022 claimed that a video of Biden had been digitally manipulated with computer graphics or deepfake technology.

Some posts focused on how few times he appeared to blink during the film.

The Facts

The use of deepfake technology, which uses artificial intelligence machine learning to create photorealistic representations of real people, is deeply mistrusted in politics, with fears it may be used to mislead voters and popularize falsehoods.

In June 2022, several European mayors were duped into believing they were holding video calls with Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv.

The following film by Bloomberg shows how convincingly deepfakes can be used to impersonate politicians.

However, there is no evidence that this recent video of Biden was manipulated in this way, and much to suggest the opposite.

First, the full video is available online via YouTube to inspect.

During his speech, made to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) Conference on July 25, 2022 the president said Donald Trump "lacked the courage" to effectively intervene during the January 6 riots.

Biden doubled down, saying: "You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-American."

This was the part of the speech shared on social media, often as part of wild conspiracy theories. As mentioned, many commented on how little the president appeared to blink.

While he doesn't blink (or doesn't appear to), this proves little to nothing about the video's creation.

The likelihood is the speech was being read from a teleprompter (watching the video, you can see the president's eyes shift left to right and he does not refer to prepared papers), meaning that Biden had to keep his eyes focussed on the writing as he was making his point in a heightened tone, for emphasis.

Furthermore, studies have shown that while humans typically blink 15-20 seconds per minute, that can decrease significantly when reading. It can drop further when looking at a computer.

Newsweek has asked the White House to confirm whether the president was reading from a teleprompter.

Whether Biden blinked or not wouldn't in itself prove that the footage was a deepfake either. Plenty of even poorly convincing deepfakes include blinking.

There was also a great deal of speculation on social media about how different Biden looked compared to another video published around the same time, with many posts juxtaposing screengrabs from each one as supposed evidence.

On July 26, 2022 a short film was posted on the POTUS Twitter about gas prices, the same day the NOBLE video went online.

This was highlighted by critics who believed that Biden's appearance had been manipulated in some way between filming, further contributing to the idea footage of the president was a deepfake.

However, the change appears to be a combination of Biden's facial expression shifting in the insurrection segment (compared to the rest of his address), and the use of different kind of lighting.

After the cut at around 8:26 mark, the frame zooms in on the President, as he reaches the concluding part of his speech.

Biden, in an effort to show his strength of feeling about the insurrection, speaks with a more dramatic and forceful intonation, and his facial expressions change accordingly (eyes widened, the squint seen earlier in the footage is gone—and both changes made more prominent by the camera zoom).

Screenshots from Joe Biden Video Address
The screengrabs from the opening and closing parts of the Joe Biden video that has fueled claims of CGI or body double use show that the President's facial expression changes dramatically as he reaches the "insurrection" part of his speech. YouTube

In fact, the familiar squint can be seen again in the final frames of the video, as the President makes his concluding remark.

In addition to this misleading use of video segments showing different facial expressions, the footage of the speech on gas prices is also darker, or lit differently, compared to the NOBLE film.

Lighting can have a dramatic effect on facial appearances. The video below, by filmmaker Nacho Guzman, demonstrates the immediate effect that shifting the direction, intensity, and color of light can have.

Furthermore, among the tweets sent out, some appear to include videos that have been deliberately edited after the fact, brightening and darkening footage of the NOBLE conference. This makes the reliability of these sets of claims even more dubious.

News and social media intelligence agency Storyful corroborated Newsweek's assumption here, adding that while some of the videos posted on social media showed no signs of manipulation, others (in particular, the film directly above) had been edited.

"The video is repeatedly spliced with a shallow fake of Biden imposed on top of video of the real Biden talking, then shows the real Biden's remarks to the NOBLE Conference, and so on," Storyful told Newsweek.

"The audio in this video matches Biden's official remarks. However, when Biden says 'Donald Trump lacked the courage to act,' that was before he says, 'You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop.'"

As well as the clear signs of manipulation with the original NOBLE conference footage, it's also worthwhile applying Occam's Razor here: Why would the White House hire a deepfake developer, a CGI video artist, a convincing voice impressionist and/or a body double to deliver a few brief speeches on political matters of the day, when another White House official could have delivered the same remarks?

As some on social media have argued, was the Biden administration carrying out an elaborate cover-up for the president's health and competency using high-tech computer software?

Or is it more likely that Biden's forthright comments about the January 6 protests in the original footage compelled his opponents to shift focus of the attacks, delivering a spurious set of arguments about deepfakes and body doubles in response?

We'll let you decide on that last point, but on the balance of all the other evidence, we are confident that deep fake or similar technology was not used to create an artificial version of Joe Biden.

Newsweek has contacted the White House for additional comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

Some Twitter users suggested that amount of times Joe Biden blinked during his NOBLE conference remarks (and a seeming difference in his appearance compared to another video shot that day) is evidence of a deep fake used by The White House. We can find no (even vaguely) convincing evidence of this. Humans may blink very little while concentrating (such as during a speech) and even unconvincing deepfakes can be programmed to blink. The difference in his appearance between films shot on the same day is far more likely to be a result of lighting or filming conditions and changing facial expressions than of software manipulation.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team