Read About The Things That Happen Throughout The World
Today marks nine months since the country went into an indefinite lockdown. Feminists are no strangers to manipulation and propaganda when women’s issues are reported, and Make More Noise have been looking into the Covid-19 propaganda machine.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984
On 31st December, 2019, the World Health Organisation China Country Office was informed of “a pneumonia of unknown etiology” that had appeared in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province. The wheels of the propaganda engine began turning in earnest at the start of 2020 when China rushed to assure the rest of the world that there was “nothing to see here” and the World Health Organisation tweeted out that, according to the Chinese Authorities, there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Evidence quickly emerged that this was a respiratory virus similar to previously known respiratory viruses and it could indeed be passed person-to-person by people with symptoms. Questions remain as to why the WHO would uncritically repeat these statements from China.
Shortly afterwards, viral videos from China of people dropping in the streets started to be widely shared. Featuring footage of officials in hazmat suits removing bodies, flinging butterfly nets over pedestrians and disinfecting streets, these look comical when viewed months later. At the time, however, they had the desired effect of proliferating through Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and instilling fear. On January 23rd China, a one-party Communist state scoring 2.26 out of 10 on the Democracy Index, plunged the city of Wuhan into a lockdown, the first in human history. This tactic has never appeared in any pandemic plan, as the cost to the most vulnerable is so high. The enforced house arrest of 57 million healthy people was condemned as a human rights abuse in many quarters whilst simultaneously being praised by WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself accused of covering up cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia, as “setting a new standard for outbreak response.” Experts have remarked on China’s propaganda efforts throughout the pandemic, suggesting they are attempting to “influence global public opinion.” Footage of people being welded into their homes emerged, and a hospital to serve those who had come into contact with the virus was built in days. All this served to perpetuate the narrative that this virus was shockingly deadly, otherwise, why on earth would China go to such extreme efforts? There was early data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that gave an idea of how deadly this disease was, but this was ignored in favour of a sexier, more dramatic, more novel threat that primed our amygdala fear response.
Italy was the first European country to seemingly be hit hard by the virus. Italy is also one of the first EU countries that signed up to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. Clips showing Italian army vehicles on the streets of Bergamo alongside stories asserting they were removing corpses due to crematoriums being overwhelmed saturated our news. Gone was the crucial context that 7 out of 10 coroners in the city had to quarantine due to the guidelines as they had come into contact with the deceased and potentially infected family members, and the army were brought in to move coffins that would otherwise start to perish. These clips were played over and over worldwide and it struck fear in the heart of many a casual Facebook commenter. Italy, too, plunged regions into lockdown before implementing nationwide restrictions.
Other countries in Europe started to follow China and Italy’s lead. A committee advisor for a WHO paper on non-pharmaceutical interventions in a pandemic remarked “We never suggested lockdown because we knew it would be so harmful socially and economically for all countries,” adding “And I never thought the rest of the world would follow China’s lead.” Our own government initially appeared to be taking a less authoritarian approach, with Sir Patrick Vallance telling the nation that you cannot possibly stop everybody getting a virus and the aim was to “broaden the peak” of infections in order to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed. This strategy and Johnson’s lack of authoritarian mettle prompted swift and merciless backlash. Many journalists and members of the public appeared to be agitating for a lockdown, and there were a great number of twitter accounts accusing Johnson of “genocide” amongst other things. In an investigation for The Tablet, Michael P Senger linked many of these accounts, and similar activity in Italy, to Chinese controlled bots. On 23rd March the government performed a drastic U-turn and locked down the nation for an indefinite period. A paper from SAGE’s behavioural scientists outlined options for increasing adherence to the measures, remarking that: The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. Interestingly, the paper cautioned that using social disapproval as a means to ensure compliance could have negative consequences including victimisation and scapegoating.
In tandem, Ofcom published a note to broadcasters regarding coverage of the emerging coronavirus pandemic. In an update dated 26th May, Ofcom urged broadcasters to take particular care when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the Coronavirus” noting that they were prioritising enforcement of broadcast standards on these issues. It is unclear whether this applies to scrutinising Matt Hancock in his repeated bending of the truth. Or evaluating the infamous 4000 deaths a day graph that sent us headlong into another lockdown in November. Youtube implemented a similar policy, promising to delete videos deemed to be spreading misinformation. It is worth considering this when looking back at the above tweet from the World Health Organisation. If these rules had been in place at the time, then any expert in the field challenging the claim that the novel coronavirus couldn’t be passed person to person would be censored. Indeed recently, an article discussing the largest randomised control trial on the efficacy of masks by Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, was censored on Facebook.
An article from the editor of the British Medical Journal noted that it is possible to disagree with Heneghan’s interpretation, indeed disagreement and discussion is the lifeblood of the scientific method, without censuring other scientists for misinformation. It is alarming that any ideas daring to challenge the ever changing party line are shut down so swiftly, regardless of credibility or source.
In addition, every day we are subjected to a rolling death count of how many people have sadly died having had a positive PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 within 28 days of their death. The shortcomings of the PCR test and labs have been discussed extensively and a study at a central London hospital during the Spring peak notes that there is no WHO approved method for counting and coding covid-19 deaths, speculating that many patients with historic or incidental infections were being included in daily figures. The televised death toll is presented without the context that around 1500 people die every day, and that approximately 460 of those deaths will be from heart disease and around 450 will be from cancer. The death toll is presented without the information that according to NHS data, emergency attendances with acute respiratory infection have been below average for months.
Propaganda is powerful and the advent of technology has given it a reach into our personal lives like never before. The world has been subjected to a well oiled propaganda machine the likes of which have never been seen, with scant outlets to have discussions without censorship, hyperbole or scaremongering. By isolating citizens as a matter of law, gone are the opportunities to have discussions in person. Instead we are forced to try and raise questions from behind a keyboard in forums that are set up to be deliberately polarising and adversarial. Cries of “conspiracy theorist!” abound when simply quoting the government’s own literature or respected medical journals, and many of our journalists appear to be more concerned with asking questions about whether we should have locked down harder, better, faster, stronger rather than asking whether suspending our right to vote is a proportionate response to a disease akin to a bad ‘flu season. Fear can override our critical thinking faculties very easily and it is facts, not fear, that will reveal the truth.
Don't believe it all / Find out for yourself / Check before you spread / News of the world
by Naomi Bridges