May 3, 2022

Disinformation Board

“The Department of Homeland Security is stepping up an effort to counter disinformation coming from Russia as well as misleading information that human smugglers circulate to target migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border… A newly formed Disinformation Governance Board announced Wednesday will immediately begin focusing on misinformation aimed at migrants.” AP News

Many on all sides are critical of the new board, for a variety of reasons:

“At congressional hearings this past week, [DHS Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas veered from pitching it as an effort to counteract Russian-style meddling in our elections to portraying it as an effort to protect Spanish-speaking migrants from lies told by the criminals who smuggle them into the country. He failed to make clear exactly how the board was supposed to accomplish either of these tasks…

“He did make clear Sunday that the board is a ‘small working group,’ that it has no ‘operational authority or capability’ and that it will be focused on foreign threats, not domestic ones. If that’s true, why does it need to exist? Perhaps there are similarities between the way criminal people-smuggling rings have lied to Central American migrants and the way Russia has meddled in our elections. To me, those appear to be different problems requiring different solutions. And it seems unlikely, to say the least, that both of those solutions can be found by a small ‘governance board’ with no actual power… Mayorkas should pull the plug on the new board.”
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

“At a minimum, this new DHS board has no reason to exist. The U.S. government already has an office dedicated to combating disinformation, the Global Engagement Center at the Department of State. Its mission is ‘to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations.’ Notice the word ‘foreign’ there…

“Until this week, the U.S. government was perfectly clear that countering disinformation means only foreign disinformation. In every administration until this one, the countering disinformation mission, whether undertaken by the GEC or its predecessors — prominently the Active Measures Working Group of Reagan-era fame, which set the benchmark for debunking KGB lies — had no domestic role whatsoever. Americans are free people who are allowed to believe whatever they like…

It has never been the federal government’s job to tell citizens what to believe. Indeed, this has been a pretty formative part of our identity as a constitutional republic!… Congress must, without delay, remedy this threat to civil liberties raised by the Biden administration.”
John Schindler, Washington Examiner

“In theory, this proposal doesn’t have to be a terrible idea, in that is allegedly designed to rebut ‘human smuggling organizations peddling misinformation to exploit vulnerable migrants for profit,’ as well as monitoring messages from terrorist and extremist groups… But it is not reassuring that the person running the effort, Nina Jankowicz, the executive director of the DHS’s planned Disinformation Governance Board, doubted the authenticity of Hunter Biden’s laptop and shared the assessments of others that it was Russian disinformation…

“Considering how the administration has spent a lot of time insisting the situation at the border isn’t that bad — ‘it happens every single, solitary year: There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year’ – it is hard to begrudge conservatives for feeling suspicious about a new special DHS group issuing reports denouncing ‘disinformation’ about migration and the border. It is easy to envision the ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ turning into just another Biden administration spin effort, insisting that the circumstances aren’t as bad as the administration’s critics are saying.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“There’s no reason to believe that [the board] will do anything other than produce documents and media aimed at quickly countering disinformation. But whether this effort will be effective—or that it’s even a good idea—is another matter altogether… For liberals, any expansion of the Department of Homeland Security or its powers should be steadfastly opposed. The department itself, which owes its existence to the authoritarian post-9/11 panic, should be abolished…

“The Biden administration should not create a faulty and easily vilified institution within what’s already an extraordinarily flawed federal agency that should rightly be dismantled. That board will undoubtedly be weaponized by the next Republican president and used to spread lies and disinformation with the legitimacy of the federal government behind it. The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. That’s reason enough to oppose it.”
Alex Shephard, New Republic

A libertarian argues, “This is the government that lied about winning the war in Vietnam, that said the Watergate affair was a ‘third-rate burglary,’ that fought a secret war in Nicaragua, that lied about a clandestine love affair in the White House, that used faulty intelligence to force a war in the Middle East. Even President Barack Obama shortchanged the truth. Of 600 Obama statements PolitiFact checked during his administration, a quarter of them fell into the ‘red zone’ of being false, mostly false, or ‘pants on fire’ false… If DHS so badly needs a paperwork project, it can address a problem closer to home: set up a bureau to study and eradicate U.S. government disinformation.”
Jack Shafer, Politico

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