WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – There is little reliable information about the new Disinformation Governance Board.
And this has made it an immediate target of criticism.
The board, part of the Department of Homeland Security, was announced last week. But DHS has released some details on how the board will function and what powers it will have.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Meyercas was again attacked on Wednesday by Republican members of Congress, who had already called for the board to be dissolved. Some civil liberties advocates also worry that the group may infringe on freedom of expression.
With propaganda campaigns working to sway opinion on everything from the war in Ukraine For the presidential election in the United States, a rocky start for the board could undermine its effectiveness and hurt efforts to stem the damage caused by false narratives.
“It’s just an episodic failure,” said Brian Murphy, the former director of DHS’s intelligence arm, of the board’s launch. “And it has set true propaganda professionals back, wherever they live.”
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Meyerkas said the board would investigate how DHS currently combats misinformation and ensure that the agency “ensures freedom of expression, rights to privacy, civil rights and civil rights”. does not infringe on liberty.” DHS already has an Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
“It’s going to establish what should have been established years ago: standards, definitions, guidelines and policies,” he said.
The board’s complicating rollout could also harm current efforts to identify and stop foreign propaganda campaigns that have been labeled a threat to national security by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Russia, China and other adversaries have used social media to deliver messages to American audiences that incite division and spread conspiracy theories or lies. In recent months, Russia has waged an aggressive propaganda campaign on platforms to claim that photos of bodies and attacks in Ukraine are fake.,
The top Republicans on two major congressional panels wrote to the department on Friday, seeking more information. Even privately, Congressional staffers say they know little about the board or how it is being funded beyond additional public announcements made by department leadership.
Reps wrote, “Given the lack of thorough knowledge of this new initiative and the potentially serious consequences for the government body that will identify and respond to ‘disruption’, we have serious concerns about the activities of this new board.” ” Mike Turner of Ohio and John’s Cutco, New York, is the top Republican on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees.
DHS held a call the same day with Congressional staff and the board’s new director, Nina Jankowicz, a writer and expert on Russian propaganda.
According to a person on the call, Jankowicz said the board had a broad vision for what it would do, but did not offer specifics for some questions, including how his organization would work with the DHS with current anti-disinformation efforts. The department also did not provide Congress with detailed written plans beyond a summary sent to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the same day the department publicly announced the creation of the board.
The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Seventy-five percent of Americans identified misinformation as a problem in the past year when they were trying to access important information, according to a survey conducted by The Pearson Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. .,
But the distinction between opinion and propaganda is often disputed – and many argue that the government should not be responsible for drawing the line.
The board’s creation sparked outrage on social media, with dozens of conservative pundits and Republican politicians dubbing it a “ministry of truth”, a reference to the government agency responsible for campaigning in George Orwell’s novel “1984”. The word ‘Ministry of Truth’ was trending on Twitter for hours.
Thousands of posts focused on Jankowicz, including previous social media posts that criticized Republicans and questioned the veracity of stories about the president’s son, Hunter Biden. Other posts used anti-Semitic language to attack him and Meyerkas for his Jewish heritage.
While the board was set up to combat Russian propaganda, it instead fueled conspiracy theories and more stories in Russian state media. A Kremlin-backed piece titled: “Biden’s ‘ministry of truth’ is another propaganda tool.”
Mitt Romney of Utah echoed that point directly to Meyerkas on Wednesday, calling the board a “terrible idea” that “tells the world we’re going to spread propaganda in our country.”
Homeland Security initially stated that the board would have a two-part mission of combating Russian propaganda activities and the false narrative smugglers use to persuade people in Latin America to try to reach the US-Mexico border. Huh.
“Anyone who is out there who may be concerned about the increase in migrants at the border, this is a mechanism that works to dispel the propaganda,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing on Monday. doing.”
On Monday, the department also announced that it would provide quarterly reports to Congress.
Trying to play down concerns about “thinking police,” Meyerkas told Nation World News in a television interview on Sunday that “we at the Department of Homeland Security do not monitor American citizens.”
In fact, DHS does. The vast department, created in response to security failures until the September 11, 2001 attacks, has broad powers to track and collect data on US citizens. He has been repeatedly accused of abusing those powers. In a bulletin earlier this year, DHS said it is using social media to identify potential conspiracy theories that could inspire domestic violence or terrorism. In a statement Monday, the agency also released examples of how it has responded to misinformation in the past, including during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when lies about drinking water and shelter locations were spread.
And organizations tracking misinformation monitor social media, where it is sometimes impossible to determine the nationality or location of individual users. Propaganda researchers often identify conspiracy theories and trending lies popular in America by monitoring public social media groups, pages and accounts.
DHS will not have the ability to remove posts or accounts that it believes are spreading propaganda. That power still rests with tech companies, said Katie Harbath, a former public policy director for Facebook who is now director of the International Republican Institute for Technology and Democracy.
He said the new disinformation board could help the platform find some of the information operations they may be missing.
“DHS will have to do what they normally do,” Harbath said. “If there’s a post that they think should be removed or fact-checked, they can report it to the platform, but the platforms are going to take their call.”
Associated Press writers Fernoush Amiri and Ben Fox contributed to this report.