Longtime comedian and political commentator Bill Maher says comparisons between the Biden administration's new Disinformation Governance Board and George Orwell’s fictitious "Ministry of Truth" are accurate.
"Yes, they're right to compare this to Orwell in the Ministry of Truth," Maher said. "It's exactly what it sounds like."
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board in response to weaponized misinformation. The memo announcing its creation pointed to recent attempts by domestic and foreign groups to circulate false information to influence the general public on subjects like Russian aggression in Ukraine and COVID-19.
Almost immediately, critics began comparing the board to the "Ministry of Truth."
The reference is a nod to George Orwell's book 1984, and likens the DHS’s newfound power to the fictional organization responsible for filtering truth in public discussion and literature. The book's Ministry of Truth determined what was "true" and "false," often rewriting to history to fit the narrative of the day.
Following the wave of backlash, the DHS released another memo saying the board is focused on disinformation that threatens the security of the American people, including "disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran, or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations."
But to Maher, the federal government's efforts to safeguard citizens against the possibility of being misled is a step too far.
"Government should not be involved in deciding what’s true or not true," he said.
In every age where new technologies have allowed for increased ease of communication, misinformation has followed closely, Maher said.
"People always lie," Maher said. "That's what people do. Every age is the misinformation age. And whenever a new means of communication comes along, some reach right for the censor button. In 1858 The New York Times thought we couldn't handle the transatlantic telegraph. They said it was 'superficial' and too fast for the truth."
Maher said America’s guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of expression would inherently empower some to disseminate wrong information, offensive statements, and more. Nevertheless, Maher said, those were part of the American promise.
"This is still America where people have the right to express what they think including to be wrong to lie and yes, the right to be an a**hole. And if you think you know everything and no one else could possibly have some other truth, you should be glad for that protection, because you're an a**hole," Maher said.