The US Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday halted work on the dissolution of a new and controversial board and accepted the resignation of its leader, following weeks of concerns about the imposition of free speech rights and at times frenzied conspiracy theories about the board. principles are limited.
It remains to be seen whether the debate on the board will harm ongoing US efforts to counter the propaganda used as a weapon by Russia and other adversaries. Secretary Alejandro Meyercas acknowledged that the board had become a distraction to the department’s other functions, including safeguarding US elections, said two officials familiar with his decision.
According to a resignation letter obtained by The Associated Press, the director of the Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Yankovic, wrote Wednesday that the board’s future was uncertain.
Although the board has not been formally closed, it will be reviewed by members of a DHS advisory council, which is expected to make recommendations in 75 days. Washington Post First informed of the stoppage of the board.
Federal and state agencies consider disinformation a threat to national security. In a statement announcing its launch, DHS said the new initiative will coordinate efforts against threats from Russian propaganda campaigns aimed at the US and false claims that encourage migrants to travel to the US-Mexico border.
But the new board was hampered from the start by questions about its purpose, funding and how to work with an uneven rollout that further confused its mission. Meyerkas struggled to answer questions about the board’s work in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
According to two department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, Meyerkas made the decision to halt the board in response to the cumulative negative backlash and growing concerns.
“The board has been grossly and willfully misrepresented: it was never about censorship or policing speech,” the department said in a statement. “It was designed to ensure that we fulfill our mission of protecting the motherland while protecting basic constitutional rights.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the board had never met and that neither the department nor Jankowicz had any authority to censor or remove material labeled as misinformation.
DHS officials had tried to address concerns about how the board would affect free speech and online privacy issues, describing it as an internal working group to study definitions of disinformation across the department.
But opponents remained unconvinced about the board’s work and purpose.
Top Republicans on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees issued a joint statement Wednesday calling the board “a political tool to keep the party under control.”
“This board has only succeeded in reinforcing that the priorities of the Department of Homeland Security are seriously misplaced,” wrote Representatives Mike Turner of Ohio and John Cutko of New York. DHS did not disclose information about the program to them.
Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney told Mayrakas that the board was a “terrible idea” that “tells the world we’re going to spread propaganda in our country.”
Twenty Republican attorneys general, led by Jason Miares of Virginia, threatened Mayerkas with legal action on the board, “unless you just come back and immediately dissolve this Orwellian Disinformation Governance Board,” Miares said in a statement. “
Reception was even worse for the board online and on conservative television shows.
The phrase “Ministry of Truth” – a reference to George Orwell’s “1984” – trended on Twitter in discussions about the board. Conservative pundits and social media users put forward conspiracy theories and lies around its purpose, with some falsely claiming that the board was quickly developed by DHS in response to billionaire Elon Musk’s quest to buy Twitter. had gone. Others made false claims that Jankowicz planned to edit daily Twitter users’ tweets.
“It’s really been wrong from the start,” said Cindy Otis, a propaganda researcher and former CIA analyst.
Experts on disinformation warned that controversy around the board could harm current efforts to identify and stop the spread of false narratives about elections and hot-button issues in American society.
Russia has tried to influence the last two presidential elections by promoting false stories and using social media to incite divisions in American society over issues such as race and the coronavirus pandemic. It has continued to spread false and misleading narratives about its invasion of Ukraine. US intelligence officials have accused China and Iran of spreading propaganda to the Americans. DHS has several ongoing programs to combat disinformation, including efforts by the US Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency to debunk claims of election fraud.
But, warned Otis, “it would be really unfortunate if they just decided that propaganda is a public sensitive to an issue.”
Jankowicz became the focus of sexist and anti-Semitic attacks, and even online death threats. A Fox News personality recently questioned whether Jankowicz should have agreed to lead the board if she were pregnant.
Critics have pointed to statements made by Jankowicz that question the origins of a laptop, said to belong to Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
Supporters of Jankowicz have accused the department of not doing enough to protect her from trolls and online attacks.