A video is making the rounds on social media claiming to show President Joe Biden not blinking throughout his speech. Coupled with speculation that his eye colour seems different, the clip has sparked an alarming number of deepfake conspiracy theories.
What is going on?
On Tuesday, Biden delivered an address criticising people who supported the 6 January attack. But what threw some right-wing commenters for a loop was the president’s appearance.
Fresh out of covid-19 isolation, the president looked wide-eyed, unblinking and spoke in a lower voice than usual, prompting the spread of conspiracy theories ranging from the inane to the truly bizarre.
‘Unblinking’ Joe Biden video may be an optical illusion
Right-wing Twitter is in a tizzy over a recent video appearing to show President Biden not blinking while delivering a searing speech.
“You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-cop,” he says in the 17-second clip. “You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-American.”
Biden goes on to condemn former President Trump for his actions during the riot, saying “Donald Trump lacked the courage to act. Brave women and men in blue all across this nation should never forget that.” According to new findings from the January 6 commission, Trump allegedly “went dark” for 187 minutes before finally giving in to pleas and condemning the Capitol violence.
Biden ends his speech by urging the “brave women and men in blue all across this nation” never to forget that.
While the contents of the speech would have been enough to rile up the right, commenters instead focussed on how Joe Biden seems not to blink throughout the whole clip.
However, many commenters don’t seem to notice that the video actually cuts at the 10-second mark. While on average a person blinks every 3-5 seconds, 10 seconds without blinking is hardly newsworthy. In fact, the longest recorded time without blinking clocks in at one hour and 17 minutes.
If President Biden was focussing on something just beyond the camera (like a teleprompter for example) while giving this heated speech, that could explain the 10-second stretch of not blinking as well as his stern voice.
Has Biden’s eye colour changed?
Along with appearing not to blink Joe Biden also looks and sounds different in this clip according to his detractors. Some commenters are pointing to the president’s eye colour as evidence that something dark is afoot in the White House.
In most press appearances since his political debut in 1970, Joe Biden’s eye colour is blue – and there’s no indication this has changed.
According to experts, eye colour generally matures in infancy and doesn’t really change as we age, with some small exceptions. In about 10-15% of people, subtle changes in eye colour can happen with age and are mainly due to genetics. However, the main cause is trauma or disease, like pigmentary glaucoma or eye injury, which warrants an urgent doctor’s appointment.
Tuesday’s video is filmed with stark, bright lighting, casting harsh shadows on Biden’s aged face and potentially misleading viewers into thinking his eyes are a different colour.
This is not the first time theorists are scrutinising Biden’s eyes. In 2021, Reuters debunked an offshoot of a QAnon theory claiming the president’s eye colour was proof he had been replaced with a lookalike.
‘He doesn’t blink’: Joe Biden deepfake theories abound
After the president’s official Twitter shared the 17-second video, conspiracy theories began sprouting across social media.
Many critics believe Biden’s wide-eyed, unblinking stare is proof of a poorly executed deepfake, while others point to subtle differences in face and eyes as proof of CGI – or even a body double.
Other comments include a 9-minute video analysis by a self-described graphics expert who calls unblinking Biden the “Terminator president”. However, they believe the effect may be down to medication, not deepfake technology, which “is not there yet” anyway.
Others yet plunged straight off the deep end with a theory popularised by Trump-supporting conspiracy QAnon.
What could be going on
The likeliest answer is unfortunately the most mundane. Fresh out of covid-19 isolation, the president is still recovering from his bout with the disease. According to NBC News, Biden is back in the Oval Office today after having tested negative.
Last week Biden was experiencing “mild symptoms” including “dry cough, runny nose, and fatigue”, according to White House physician Kevin O’Connor.
The president, at 79, is fully vaccinated and has received two covid-19 booster shots. Still, at his age, he is at higher risk of covid-19 complications or lingering symptoms.
Additionally, the discrepancies in the president’s appearance could be down to lighting, fatigue, or potentially medication he could be on to treat any lingering covid symptoms.