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The new visa rule contradicts U.S. claim of “freedom of speech”

The U.S. has started to implement a new visa rule since May 31st: U.S. Visa applicants need to offer their accounts on 20 social media websites they have used in the past 5 years for security checks, including main Chinese social media sites such as Weibo, Douban, Qzone, and so on. The new rule is applicable to all U.S. visa applicants except for some diplomatic and official visas as well as applicants from all countries except those from 38 countries that qualify for visa exemption.

As is known to all, the private information contained in social media posts involves not only tangible contents such as information about everyday lives, but also intangible contents involving politics, ideology, culture, and so on. The new U.S. visa rule is nominally for national security-- “for strengthening all-round security checks upon immigrants and preventing terrorists and dangerous people to step in the U.S.” But the rule’s actual aim and influences are not limited to that.

First of all, visa applicants’ personal opinions and assertions on social media will be used as “evidence” for visa denials by visa officers. It increases the difficulty of visa applications’ approval and aligns with the logic of utilizing “extreme vetting” to refuse the huge influx of immigrants to the U.S., which was promised by the current U.S. government before it came to power.

Secondly, the U.S. is intentionally creating a kind of “hidden rules” through such extreme vetting: no matter how hegemonistic the U.S. is, no matter how perversely the U.S. acts, visa applicants can not criticize the U.S. or show anti-US sentiments on social media; no matter whether it’s genuine, visa applicants need to identify with the U.S. and “only say what makes the U.S. glad.” Such effects of the policy are contradictory to the longstanding U.S. claim of “freedom of speech”.

Another important point is that as visa applicants’ legal virtual identities on the Internet are disclosed compulsorily and as anonymization is removed, U.S. security review departments will acquire personal private information that is far beyond actual need. In the age of big data, such information may be used for other aims and become “dark claws” extending to other countries and people.

The new US visa rule originates from an order by the current U.S. government in 2017, which demands new security checks before issuing visas to ordinary travelers, business travelers, and relatives of U.S. citizens. This new rule is a special outcome under the current U.S. government. It aligns with the logic of American populism, neoconservatism, neorealism, and neo-isolationism, revealing U.S. “triple anxiety” about the external world.

The first layer is the anxiety over U.S. international image. Since the current U.S. government came to power, the U.S. has applied “America First” internationally, denied liberalist foreign policies all-roundly, pursued “principled realism”, hence overturned U.S.’ traditional international image. These actions violate international moral principles, which has incited significant dissatisfaction, and conspicuously compromised U.S. soft power. The U.S. president, who is proud of being a “Twitter President”, pays much attention to social media’s influences in national politics. The new visa rule extends U.S. control over other nations’ public opinions to social media, which reveals U.S anxiety about the worldwide negative reactions to a series of its actions. Behind such extreme unilateral U.S. behaviors is its extreme lack of self-confidence.

The second layer is anxiety over immigrants. The U.S. has been a nation of immigrants since its founding. As time goes by, constant influx of immigrants has brought huge changes to U.S. demographics. Due to lack of efficient institutional arrangement for racial integration, U.S. demographics of different races has changed from “a melting pot” to “mosaicization”, which led to white people’s anxiety over the decline of Anglo-Saxon mainstream culture and confusion over “who we are”. American conservatism and populism gradually dominate in the battle with liberalism and pluralism, and the latest U.S. election results were based on this background. The U.S. starts to resort to “exclusion” to transfer this socio-cultural crisis. The new visa rule is another measure to limit the number of immigrants after the “border wall” brought by the current U.S. government, and reveals U.S. anxiety about the immigrants’ impact on mainstream culture.

The third layer is anxiety over U.S. national security. Since the September 11 attacks, the “two wars” that the U.S. experienced have brought not a more secure international environment, but messier and more dangerous situations in the Middle East and anti-terrorism. After a series of U.S. military interventions, the Syrian Civil War continues. The U.S., on the one hand, is eager to leave the post-war situation of Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan; on the other hand, the U.S. is constantly intensifying the Iran nuclear issue and Palestine-Israel issue. Thus, anti-American sentiments among the Middle East countries remain strong, and the U.S. mainland faces the danger of terrorist attacks. The new visa rule is another measure to limit U.S.-bound immigrants after the “Muslim ban”, and reveals U.S. anxiety about national security risks.

But if the U.S. doesn’t look for the origins of national security risks from its internal politics and diplomacy but instead compulsorily checks visa applicants’ social media accounts and tears apart its claim of “freedom of speech”, it can not ensure the security it wants.

Contributed by Dong Chunling for Guangming Daily

Translated by Gao Xinran

[ Editor: Zhang Zhou ]