Earlier this year, Joe Biden asked social media companies to engage in more censorship in an effort to divert attention from the wholesale failure of his administration to “shut down the virus.” In a televised speech, he said “I make a special appeal to social media companies and media outlets: please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that’s on your shows. It has to stop.”
More recently, CNN denounced “misinformation” that blamed high gas prices and inflation on the Biden administration. Media outlets have accused Joe Rogan of “spreading disinformation” about Covid-19 and the vaccine because… he dared to ask scientific experts questions on these topics. Other examples of ideas that the legacy media has alternately labelled as “misinformation” and “disinformation” include assertions that Covid-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China; the idea that there was some orchestrated manipulation of procedures to favor Biden in the 2020 election; that Hunter Biden’s laptop offered evidence that the Biden family had been enriched by various forms of international corruption; and that powerful NGOs and world governments are leveraging the pandemic to facilitate a “Great Reset” of the global economy. The campaign to ban these claims – most which are demonstrably true – indicates not a dangerous spread of “disinformation,” but a dangerous weaponization of the concept of disinformation in order to insulate the institutional left from criticism and opposition.
It is no accident that virtually every claim that is consistently labelled as disinformation is one that threatens the policy agenda of the Democratic party (or parts of their agenda that they are too embarrassed to state publicly). “Disinformation” is no longer a concept used to separate truth from falsehood. In the past few years, it has been rhetorically intensified to circumvent the question of truth entirely. It is a means to annex the public’s role in assessing the validity of reporting, placing this authority solely in the hands of “experts” who have the exclusive right to say what is “true.” Understanding the differences between “misinformation” and “disinformation” and observing the ways these concepts are arbitrarily applied is crucial to grasping how our media and other institutions undermine genuine public deliberation—a prerequisite for any functioning democracy.