Dismissal Of Covid Lab Leak Theory Exposes U.S. Government Involvement In Disinformation And Censorship
The U.S. government contractor who called it a "conspiracy theory" was being intentionally misleading
Since 2018, Democratic members of Congress, experts, and think tanks including the Aspen Institute have urged social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to do more to censor information, and they have. In September 2020, for example, Facebook censored a "Tucker Carlson Tonight" segment in which a Chinese doctor said that the covid pandemic resulted from a virus escaping from a lab in China. Facebook labeled the clip as “false information,” and Instagram flagged it.
Demands from the government that social media companies censor content have increased under President Joe Biden. In January 2021, the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, which was created in 2018 to respond to election disinformation, broadened its scope “to promote more flexibility to focus on general” misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. Where misinformation can be unintentional, disinformation is defined as deliberate, while malinformation can include accurate information that is “misleading.” In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a “Disinformation Governance Board.” The strong backlash to it led DHS to abandon publicly but quietly repackage its effort through its member agencies.
Internal emails between Biden officials and Facebook executives show the former heavily pressuring Facebook to censor content they believed was causing vaccine hesitancy, and the latter pointing to their censorship of "often-true content” in order to achieve that goal. One week after Biden took office, Facebook announced, “we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims… This includes claims such as… COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured.”
For years, the idea that the coronavirus pandemic was caused by a leak from Wuhan Institute for Virology’s laboratory in Wuhan, China, was considered fringe. In February 2020, The Washington Post published an article headlined, “Tom Cotton repeats debunked conspiracy theory about coronavirus,” after the Republican senator floated the idea. Two days later, the British medical journal, Lancet, published an article by 27 scientists “to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
Today, the mainstream media considers the possibility that a lab leak caused the pandemic to be as likely as the possibility that it was caused by a spillover of a virus from animals to humans. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in concluding that a laboratory leak was more likely than natural causes to have caused the coronavirus pandemic. In November, the top government official overseeing the U.S. response to the pandemic, Anthony Fauci, said, about Covid’s origins, “I have a completely open mind.”
The episode raises troubling questions about the growing censorship by social media platforms at the behest of government officials, government contractors, and ostensibly nonpartisan scientists and experts. Under pressure from governmental and nongovernmental actors, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms have censored true or potentially true information about everything ranging from vaccines to the lab leak to the Biden family’s business dealings. Given the broad protection of free speech afforded by the First Amendment, government demands that social media companies censor information, even including inaccurate information, may be unconstitutional.
Whether constitutional or unconstitutional, the pattern of behavior by government officials, government contractors, and former CIA, FBI, DHS, and other intelligence officials is disturbing. Censorship has been demanded in several major cases, including the covid origins case, by the same people spreading disinformation or misinformation. That reality highlights the ways in which disinformation and censorship are two sides of the same coin. To understand this troubling pattern of increasing government disinformation and censorship and what should be done to prevent more of it, we need to take a closer look at the debate over covid origins.