Washington — A memo that reached the top of the Department of Homeland Security in September could not clarify plans to create a committee to monitor national security threats posed by the spread of dangerous disinformation. prize.
“You shouldn’t try to be a true all-purpose arbitrator in public,” the ministry said.
But when Secretary Alejandro N. Mallorcus announced the Disinformation Commission in April, Republican lawmakers and conservative critics blamed it exactly that and called it Orwell’s attempt to suppress dissent. .. So did the critics from the left. They questioned the power that such offices could fall into the hands of future Republican governments.
Within a few weeks, the new board was dismantled and officially “paused”, but was partially revoked by combat-oriented forces, such as board intent and distorted authority.
There is widespread consensus throughout the federal government that coordinated disinformation campaigns can exacerbate public health emergencies, cause ethnic and racial divisions, and undermine democracy itself. However, the fate of the board emphasizes how deeply partisan the issue has become in Washington, making it nearly impossible to consider how to deal with the threat.
According to experts, the failure to act left the possibility of a new wave of disinformation ahead of the November midterm elections-and violence such as the racist slaughter at the Buffalo Supermarket in May. Even for the sake of “replacement” of white Americans with immigrants, motivated by unfounded conspiracy theories aimed at by global forces.
“I think we’re in a really tough situation in this country,” said Nina Jankovic, who temporarily served on the board of directors before resigning when the controversy boiled.
Jankovich, a prominent writer and researcher in the field of disinformation that once advised the Ukrainian government, targeted online with false or misleading information about her role in what critics accused of being the Ministry of Truth. Was the focus of anger.
“It’s hard to imagine how we’ll recover,” she said in an interview.
Today’s disinformation threats include issues that may have transcended partisan politics not long ago. Instead, disinformation is spilling over into the country’s deepening factions and geographic disparities over issues such as abortion, guns and climate change.
Even during the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security recognized the threat. Authorities, along with the Secretary of State Intelligence, have commissioned a 2019 investigation that concludes that disinformation can “exacerbate existing social rifts” and “cause panic that echoes financial markets,” among other things.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of State, and the Pentagon have repeatedly warned of threats from foreign disinformation sources.The Federal Election Commission Prior to the 2020 elections, we held a symposium to address this issue.
But by that time, the division of the factions over this issue had already begun to take shape.
Its roots stem from Russia’s intervention in the 2016 Donald J. Trump presidential election, and despite evidence compiled by federal agents about Russia’s accomplices, he and his allies have repeatedly accused him of fake. did.
Many Republicans are partisan in the fight against disinformation, as Mr. Trump continues to claim that the disinformation swirling around the Covid-19 and 2020 Biden presidential elections is fraudulent, contrary to all evidence. I consider it an attack.
“Without political implications, we can’t even use the word’disinformation’today,” said John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security intelligence officer. -Allowed the rapid spread of false information.
In all accounts, the department could not predict the anger that the creation of an advisory board would cause-and critics satirize it with the very kind of campaign it was intended to monitor. Ease of things.
Mayorkas announced the board of directors off-hand at a budget hearing in April, followed by Twitter post From Jankowicz. By that time, the board had not yet officially met, but had already been in operation for two months.
In addition to the new director, the staff included four staff members, detailed from other parts of the department. We did not yet have a dedicated budget or executive authority. Still, conservative commentators, including Jack Posobiek, raided with the addition of conservative media and Republican officials.
The board soon became a new foil in the story of an old Republican campaign. It is that overwhelming Democrats want to invade people’s personal beliefs more and more. In other words, it “cancels” conservative values. Jankovic’s excellence in the discussion of Russian behavior has made her a special target for Republicans.
“Rights recognize that it’s a way to upset people,” Jankovic said. “The problem is that there is a very real national security issue here, and not being able to talk about it in a mature way is a real disadvantage to the country.”
But the opposite wasn’t just from the right.
Three rights groups, the Protection of Democracy, the Columbia University Night First Amendment Institute, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, welcomed the ministry’s recognition of the scale of the problem, but disregarded the ministry’s “history of ignoring the Constitution in a tremendous way.” I mentioned it as a good reason. I’m vigilant.
“Maliciously, such a committee would be a powerful tool for government censorship and retaliation,” they said. I wrote in a letter I called on Mallorcus to reconsider the board.
Damage occurred and Mr. Mallorcus reversed his course. He put the work of his board on hold while waiting for a review from the department’s advisory board, which is due to be completed by August 1.
He asked a bipartisan pair of former employees to consider the issue of fighting disinformation: under President George W. Bush and under the department’s secretaries Michael Chartoff and Bill Clinton. Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick. Few people expect the board to be reconstructed in the way it was intended.
As with many other problems, the increasing polarization of disinformation has hampered Congress and the Biden administration from seeking solutions.
Laws such as honest advertising laws that regulate political advertising online, such as television and radio, have been stalled for years. For example, Europe amplifies how their services split content and the ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation of a person.
In Washington, there isn’t even an agreement on the threat, as Republicans see the fight against disinformation as an effort to silence conservative voices.
According to internal documents of the Department of Homeland Security, which established the board, they include a crisis torn from today’s headlines: false information that undermines public health emergencies. A trafficker who lies to steer immigrants on a dangerous journey across the southern border. A conspiracy theory that creates violence against state and local electoral workers.
The document was published by two Republican senators, Chuck Glasley, Iowa, and Josh Hawley, Missouri, who slammed the board. They are not as evidence of the need to fight disinformation, but as evidence of the board’s fraudulent purpose, even though all Memorandums emphasized the main need to protect freedom of speech. I quoted it. However, in the document, there was an issue that Mallorcus received to deal with disinformation at a meeting with Twitter officials, which Senator characterized as an effort to “suppress unfavorable content.”
Mr. Glasley did not respond to the request for comment. Mr. Hurley’s spokeswoman, Abigail Marone, said President Biden “was enthusiastic about leading the First Amendment to the First Amendment in American history.”
“His idea of’disinformation’is that children are being taught critical race theory and that Americans are asking legitimate questions about the Covid vaccine,” she said. Added. “Biden’s purpose is to use the power of the federal government to stop speech.”
For the first time in February, the Department of Homeland Security added a threat of false information to its regular state terrorism advisory bulletin. “The United States remains in an environment of heightened threats fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misunderstanding stories and conspiracy theories,” the warning said.
“It can exacerbate social friction, disagree, undermine public confidence in government agencies, foster anxiety and cause violence,” said domestic and foreign officials. At that time, Senator Marsha BlackburnRepublicans in Tennessee have declared that the ministry is “controlling American citizens’ speeches, thoughts, and opinions.”
The department repeated the warning at Breaking news last month..
Paul Barrett, Deputy Director of the Stern Business and Human Rights Center at New York University, said: “And there’s a weird, circular, loop-around effect. The problem itself helps prevent us from talking about the problem.”