The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that a new Disinformation Governance Council has been created to coordinate efforts to combat information campaigns related to homeland security. It would focus on misinformation from Russia as well as misinformation spread by smugglers who target migrants hoping to cross the US-Mexico border. The council’s creation appears to be an attempt by the Biden administration to deliver on its campaign promise to limit online misinformation and conspiracy theories ahead of the midterm elections. It will be led by disinformation and technology expert Nina Jankowicz, who was previously a Wilson Center fellow, was a Fulbright scholar and worked for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in Kyiv.
In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said, “The spread of misinformation can affect border security, the safety of Americans during disasters, and public confidence in our democratic institutions.” Attention has been drawn to cases of smugglers spreading false information about US border policies in tries to stimulate businessof which one case last September resulted in approximately 14,000 Haitian migrants show up in Del Rio, Texas. The other objective, Russian disinformation, is notable due to the upcoming elections and the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin has interfered in the last two presidential elections, the extent of which is subject to debate, and is waging an extensive information campaign in addition to its traditional war in Ukraine.
However, not everyone in Washington viewed the government’s announcement as rosy as they sought to portray it. Many critics, the majority of whom are Republican politicians and include Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Troy Nehlsdecried the Disinformation Governance Board as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”. Many outside the mainstream media also expressed skepticism, including Breaking Points Podcast host, Saagar Enjeti, and The Hill’s Rising host Robby Soave. In a article for ReasonRobby Soave argues “…it is not the responsibility of the US government to decide what is and is not disinformation”, adding, “the federal government has not shown itself to be particularly adept at identifying disinformation “.
Since the US government and private companies have sometimes suppressed accurate information, more politicians and experts across the ideological spectrum should be concerned. A similar outcry likely would have occurred, and would have been entirely justified, if former President Trump had put up this chart between posting fake tweets. While the intended purpose may have supposedly noble goals, deciphering misinformation and misinformation online is much easier said than done. Moreover, the role of government should never be to be the arbiter of truth. This role should be reserved for US news agencies and the general public. A government agency tasked with investigating online arenas carries far too high a risk of violating citizens’ privacy and First Amendment rights.
The past two years have provided ample grounds for unified concern. The most notable examples of government-corporate collusion to quash stories have centered on the Hunter Biden laptop story and the COVID-19 lab leak hypothesis. And while these stories have turned into polarizing political stories, they should arouse enormous skepticism about the government’s creation of a disinformation committee when viewed from an objective, non-partisan perspective. As the 2020 presidential election approaches, more than 50 former intelligence officials signed an open letter claiming that the leaked emails had “all the classic hallmarks of a Russian information operation”. Twitter afterwards blocked a link from being shared at the New York Post’s Hunter Biden talk and suspended their account, while Facebook reduce the spread of the article. Facebook also censored so-called “false statements” that claimed “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured” until May 26, 2021. It is only recently that the laboratory leak theory has been allowed into polite society, and an in-depth analysis Vanity Fair survey claims there was an orchestrated campaign to cast doubt on the theory.
The fact that two major stories with extremely important political implications have been suppressed by public and private collusion is worrying to say the least. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday try to clarify the Council’s objectives. Mayorkas said the Council will not have operational authority and will not monitor US citizens, but will “gather best practices…and disseminate those best practices to operators who have been working to combat this threat for years” . The problem is that the “experts” providing these best practices in the mainstream media and government have recently led to bad recommendations, resulting in the removal of two stories now known to be true, along with the Hunter laptop story Biden, or bearing substantial credibility, in the case of the lab leak theory.
The job of government is to execute the will of the people. This is formulated and expressed through reporting, sharing, debating, debunking and verifying relevant information, which should happen outside the framework of government regulation. As we have seen, the government has proven unable to provide adequate guidance as to the veracity of multiple news reports in recent years. The creation of the Disinformation Governance Council appears to be an attempt to bolster these regulatory efforts. It also provides current and future administrations with the abilities to exert unfair influence on public discourse, a reality that will likely come under greater scrutiny if Trump returns to office.