Health and Medicine

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.”


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