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The Biden administration announced the establishment of the Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) last week to be created within the Homeland Security Department (DHS), aiming to counter “misinformation related to homeland security.”
There are many unknowns about DGB. For example, we don’t know how the members of DGB will be selected, what kind of power it will have, and how it defines misinformation. But the early signs are not promising. The vaguely defined roles and authorities of DGB have alarmed Americans, and many see the agency as the “Ministry of Truth” that George Orwell warned us about in his dystopian novel “1984.”
But we don’t need to rely on a novel to foresee the harm DGB will do to our cherished freedom and the future of this Constitutional Republic. As someone who grew up in China’s authoritarian regime, I see the parallel between DGB and the Chinese government’s Central Propaganda Department (CPD).
CPD is one of the most powerful Communist Party organs. It controls all media outlets in China. The heads of China’s media outlets are reportedly “required to attend weekly meetings in order to receive instructions regarding what stories should be reported on or ignored.”
The CPD decides what books, movies, music, TV shows, and other information the Chinese people can access. It is known to actively spread misinformation and revise history, so the Communist Party and its leadership are always cast in the most favorable light. To quote Orwell, the CPD is “where lies are manufactured.”
One Chinese journalist concludes that the CPD ” manipulates people’s thoughts and ideas, and messes with their heads, and their ability to think critically.”
By establishing the DGB and using state power to censor Americans’ speech, the Biden administration has taken a giant leap into authoritarianism.
The CPD also manages China’s massive army of censors and works closely with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Together, the two agencies monitor and filter the internet, accuse those who speak out of “spreading rumors,” “endangering the stability of the society,” and “threatening national security.”
Together, the two agencies make sure dissenters will be detained and punished, and their reprimand serves as a warning to other Chinese — either “shut up” or “be locked up.” The suppression of free speech has dire consequences.
One recent example was in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Li Wenliang was one of eight Wuhan whistleblowers who warned the public about the coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019. His post in a private group went viral after someone shared a screenshot of it on China’s social media. Rather than heeding Dr. Li’s warning, the CPD sought to silence him and other whistleblowers.
An image of Nina Jankowicz from her Twitter account. (Nina Jankowicz/Twitter)
Wuhan police arrested them on New Year’s Day of 2020 and charged them of “fabricating, disseminating and spreading rumors.” They were forced to sign a pre-written, fabricated confession admitting their “wrongdoings” for “spreading rumors” and promised to never do it again.
China’s state-owned Central Television Station’s (CCTV) broadcasted Li and others’ detentions. The Wuhan police issued a stark warning to all, calling on all netizens to “not fabricate rumors, not spread rumors, not believe rumors,” but rather to focus on jointly building “a harmonious, clear and bright cyberspace.”
Shortly after his release, Dr. Li contracted the COVID-19 at work and passed away on February 7, 2020. Even after Dr. Li’s death, the Chinese government continued to cover up the severity of the Covid19 outbreak and insisted that there was no human-to-human transmission.
Nina Jankowicz will be the executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board. (@wiczipedia Twitter account)
According to epidemic experts, the Chinese authorities’ outbreak cover-up in the early weeks led them to miss a “golden time period” that could have been used to implement robust emergency measures.
A study by the University of Southampton shows that had China taken preventative measures one week, two weeks, or even three weeks earlier, such as having the public start social distancing and wearing masks, the number of cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent, and 95 percent respectively and significantly limited the geographical spread of the disease.
In other words, had Communist China heeded Dr. Li’s warning and taken action in January 2020, no country would have had to close its borders, no businesses would have had to shut down, no one would have had to lose their jobs, and most of us would have been able to continue to live normal lives. Most importantly, fewer people would have gotten sick and died.
China is far from the only country censors speech it doesn’t like. In the last two years, public health officials, politicians, and liberal media in the U.S. have silenced debates such as the effectiveness of cloth masks or the lab leaking theory of COVID-19 by accusing those who spoke out of spreading “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Americans who were willing to challenge the COVID orthodoxy were de-platformed from social media sites.
By establishing the DGB and using state power to censor Americans’ speech, the Biden administration has taken a giant leap into authoritarianism. Should Americans who disagree with the Biden administration’s version of “truth” on issues such as immigration and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine expect to face imprisonment if they dare to speak out?
Before his passing, Dr. Li said that “A healthy society should not only have one voice.” One of the most important lessons we should take away from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we are all fallible creatures, and truth can only emerge through vigorous debate.
When the government becomes the sole arbiter of “truth,” our health and wellbeing will be in danger.